The tragedy of OpenRAW

OpenRAW was born on 25 April 2005. It was brain-dead within two years.
It sometimes twitches and causes grief for those who ponder "what might have been?"
Juergen Specht helped create OpenRAW. He also helped kill it.

Pregnancy | Birth | Life | Death | Mourning


OpenRAW evolved from Canon & Nikon mailing lists maintained by Juergen Specht. He created a new OpenRAW mailing list to address some of his concerns. The OpenRAW mailing list was very active from March 2005 to OpenRAW's launch and beyond.

Juergen Specht and other initial members of the OpenRAW Working Group never really understood the discipline of digital resource preservation. There was expertise within the mailing list, but the following statement from one expert was largely ignored:

The archivists take a longer (and more penny pinching, pragmatic) view. They need the art to last with as little maintenance, expense, and expertise as possible. Obviously multivariation file format(s) are not the answer. An open standard which is well documented, industry standard, and has free open source tools would be much easier for them to accept (first of all) and support indefinitely which is their fundamental goal.

DNG was occasionally discussed on the mailing list. Thomas Knoll provided information that should have been sufficient to understand DNG's relevance to OpenRAW. Peter Krogh predicted that many people would switch to DNG with Photoshop CS2. Their information was not accepted as significant to OpenRAW.

The main problem appears to have been short-termism. Here are extracts from a number of statements to the mailing list:

Juergen Specht:
My (private) goal out of this list is to get an open documentation for the file format I use since 5 years ...
DNG does not help me at my current situation ...
I have an immediate problem ...

My summary is that there was no "vision". There was no attempt to imagine a year 2015 when these problems had been solved, and then to identify the steps getting there. There was no real attempt to extrapolate where DNG might be in the future, even though it was obvious that it would be part of the environment. And there was no realistic analysis of whether the specific objectives of OpenRAW could be achieved, nor whether they were sufficient for long-term digital image preservation.

OpenRAW was on the wrong track before it was launched.

Link to OpenRAW threads statistics


When OpenRAW was launched, with its website, on 25 April 2005, it made headlines and was news in relevant forums and blogs world-wide.

OpenRAW was a superb brand-name, and the marketing (coordinated by Juergen Specht) was very effective. Eventually over 1500 people (including me) signed up as supporters.

A significant minority of invidual supporters thought "OpenRAW" was the name of a common raw file format, and didn't realise that this wasn't an objective. Similarly, from the OpenRAW resources page:

"an open raw format standard must be adopted by our industry";
"Open RAW solves all these problems with a open standard specification";
"We support your movement for an open, unified, lossless digital photo format";
"We strongly encourage the camera manufacturers to embrace a standard that provides their customers with long-term and complete access to their images";
"I believe that the standardization of RAW formats will help innovation and give the opportunity to third-party programmers and ISVs to make great RAW conversion software";
"We would like to see a universal RAW format adopted by all camera manufacturers and strongly encourage them to openly document their existing RAW formats";
"Standardization is simply the right thing to do";
"We are strong supporters of open RAW standards";
"Digital Photography needs open standards to evolve";
"We need an open specification and an open file format";
"We belive that an open standard will benefit the user of RAW-files and the industry";
"We need to achieve a similar open standardization for the digital darkroom".

The members of the OpenRAW Working Group, especially Juergen Specht, never accepted what their own supporters were telling them.


Before launch, the following had been sent to the mailing list:

Beyond making a din, being constructive and clear, seductive and logical, writing carefully targeted open letters, pulling every string that we can think of ... but none of this seems to carry any more than our hopes for success .... I'm not doubting our purpose and direction, just wanting to look ahead and prepare for what next. Is there anything that we need to have in place before the splash. What follow through strategies can we use, beyond continuing to jump up and down on our soap box ...

Nothing was done. OpenRAW was never linked to any sustainable initiative.

An extract from an article I posted to the OpenRAW website was quoted to the mailing list, without results:

Why don't you add a page that positions the OpenRAW solution within the context of DCRAW & DNG, and those 150+ and 70+, so that people can see where OpenRAW fits in the overall picture? It would make it clear to people that you do in fact know a lot about those products and the DNG standard.

By the end of 2005, activity under the OpenRAW name was in serious decline, which can be fatal for a lobby-group. What else did OpenRAW have going for it other than activity in its name? There was one last idea:

In January 2006, OpenRAW launched a survey to solicit opinions about whether photographers wanted an openly-specified raw file format. The format and population of the survey were rightly criticised, but it had the effect of providing a "mid-life kicker" to the OpenRAW brand. However, this was minor compared with the activity achieved at launch. The extra activity was the result of conducting the survey - once the results were published, interest ceased. In retrospect, it looks like a blip in OpenRAW's terminal decline.

OpenRAW posts per day on DPReview since launch: fewer than 0.6.

DNG posts per day on DPReview since launch: more that 15.

References to OpenRAW in blogs at 14 April 2008

9 in 180 days!


By May 2006, useful activity on the website had virtually ceased. Real activity had lasted for about one year after launch!

In November 2006, this was sent to the mailing list, but ignored:

In NY ... everyone, even Chuck Westfall expressed that DNG was THE archival RAW format. All the momentum around this issue is for adoption of DNG and DNG convertors. I continued to advocate open documentation - not just of proprietary RAW, but also the proprietary information that is allowed and saved in DNG files. No one else even discussed the possibility of open documentation of proprietary RAW formats. So on this issue, I was alone. I took away this thought - a standard RAW format is a much more likely possibility than open documentation [IMHO]. As time goes on, if the camera makers will design their software to open and save DNG as well as their proprietary formats, than DNG will be well on its way to becoming a standard. At that point, the ISO would likely bless it. CR2 and NEF files will never achieve ISO status. If it happens that DNG gets ISO support as the standard, then the proprietary stuff will most likely have to be documented - so this may be a back door way to get open documentation.

Also in November 2006, this statement to the mailing list, commenting on an article on the web, did not provoke the obvious conclusions:

Like so many others, this article mixes insight and misleading statements - not least the connection of [OpenRAW] and DNG in the same paragraph, suggesting that DNG is a "solution" to the problems OpenRAW has documented. It's a bit of a shame that we've lost momentum and that articles like this are all that's keeping the issue alive. At least the author's conclusions in the last two sentences of the quoted paragraph are on target and supportable by OpenRAW. Unfortunately, a casual reader might take this paragraph as a suggestion that the first two sentences are related by facts (e.g., that OpenRAW supports or endorses DNG). That would be unfortunate, in my view.

In February 2007, I tried and failed, despite all the above, to persuade Juergen Specht that OpenRAW needed to accommodate DNG in its future. My dialogue with Juergen Specht was now the only activity on the OpenRAW website.

Rome was burning. Juergen Specht was fiddling.

After he banned me from the website, OpenRAW became dormant. Was point-scoring against me more important than helping OpenRAW make progress? Before OpenRAW was launched, Juergen Specht had shown that he had short-term objectives, and these eliminated DNG as part of the solution. Even faced with the evidence of how wrong this policy was, he maintained that dogma.

Within 2 years from when Juergen Specht launched OpenRAW with short-term objectives, DNG was far better supported, and OpenRAW was brain-dead and never helped resolve his 2005 problems. He let short-term desires and wishful thinking overcome realistic analysis of how best to satisfy his goals. He alerted people to the problem, and created a superb brand-name, but wasted the opportunities to make progress.

OpenRAW - Rest In Peace!


The OpenRAW mailing list still has bursts of activity on it. Some posts illustrate the continuing "head in the sand" denial of the blindspots in OpenRAW, and ignorance and denial of the specific unique advantages of DNG.

Juergen Specht continues to lash out at people who tried to steer OpenRAW in a productive direction. Here is his silly response to a citation of an important paper:

Richard L. Hess (17 Jun 2010):
"In my browsing of archives lists, I came across this publication that might be of interest in the decision of what format(s) to archive.
Bennett, Michael J. and Wheeler, F. Barry, "Raw as Archival Still Image Format: A Consideration" (2010). UConn Libraries Published Works. Paper 23."
[See article on Digital Image Archiving on this website].

Juergen Specht (17 Jun 2010):
"IMHO, anybody who uses a known Internet Troll like Barry Pearson as a source in their document, should not be 100% trusted.
For me its a very scary thought to see this in such an publication."
[The paper has 72 citations, with 2 to this website: [28] Products that support DNG in some way; [29] Adobe products that support DNG]

Juergen Specht still doesn't grasp the deficiencies in the narrow approach to digital image preservation that he restricted OpenRAW to:

Juergen Specht (17 Jun 2010):
"In reply to a private email today, I wrote this: .... I am sure that somebody in the far future digs out some info from OpenRAW and will say "man, these guys were visionaries back then!""
[A scary delusion!]

The OpenRAW website identifies "Sister Sites". There is only one - RAWPository. It now says:

October 31, 2007: Glass Lantern, LLC has ceased operation. No further orders may be placed, and no further support can be provided, as the company is now dissolved. Thanks to those who supported us!