ComputerWorld has a five-page report this morning detailing how Microsoft has managed to score a technical knockout of open document formats (not necessarily the OpenDocument Format) in five out of six states. The story sheds a bit of light on how closely (and in some cases quickly) vendors are working with legislators to sway public policy. According to the story...
In Texas, corporate lobbying was also behind both the creation and eventual demise of HB1794, a bill in favor of open formats. The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Marc Veasey, acknowledged that he became interested in the issue only after being approached by former political colleagues who now work for IBM.....[Microsoft] worked with him on initial drafts of the bill but then refused to sign off at the last moment. He said said Microsoft also hired a top local lobbying firm that went to the expense of bringing in witnesses from other states and countries.....
Then, in Oregon, where a similar bill regarding open formats was under consideration:
....."There was heavy opposition from a certain large software company in Redmond, Washington," a spokesman for [Oregon] Rep. Peter Buckley said Friday. "But we don't name names." Buckley, a Democrat, sponsored the bill in the state legislature....
And in Florida, pretty much the same thing:
The amendment to Senate bill 1974 would have required state agencies be able to receive documents in open formats but would not have automatically banned proprietary formats. Even so, Microsoft's reaction was swift.....According to a story posted in late April on the MarketWatch Web site, Rep. Ed Homan, the Republican legislator from Tampa who tried to amend the bill, said that Microsoft lobbyists pressured committee members to yank the addition. "They were here lickety-split," he told MarketWatch.
The fact that vendors on both sides of the debate (main Sun and IBM in favor of open document legislation and Microsoft opposing) are so vigorously engaged in swaying policymakers gives you some idea of how incredibly important both see the issue in terms of long term strategy.
However, the ComputerWorld barely scratches the surface of what's going on in the bigger picture that could impact the long term outcome. For example, should companies (individually or collectively) that support the OpenDocument Format like Google start to make a dent in the marketshare of Microsoft Office (particularly now that it has put a stake in the ground when it comes to the #1 complaint about Web apps; the offline problem), then those would be far more impactful in terms of moving masses of users to different document formats (including government users, particulary if the economics were right) than any policymaking.
Of course, Microsoft can't be counted out there either. The company turned on a dime when it needed an Internet strategy in the mid-90's and there's no doubt in my mind that it's prepared to answer the Web app challenge (particularly from Google) when and if that challenge poses a serious threat (it doesn't right now).
Then, there's the international scene where, depending on the country, American technology companies may get their day in court, but in the end, have far less political sway over the outcome. For example, China, where they're working on their own open document format. Proving that "public" policy can be a motivating factor for vendors like Microsoft, the company will apparently be supporting China's Uniform Office Format (UOF) -- a format that is likely to become a standard for productivity documents in that country. Earlier this year (in April), Sun chairman Scott McNealy called for a merger of the OpenDocument Format and the Uniform Office Format, but there's been no news since then regarding such an effort.