Let the file format hairsplitting begin

Summary:Now that Microsoft has issued a special covenant not to sue developers -- even open source developers -- that develop software that supports its XML-based Office file formats, the entire industry (OK, a goodly portion of it) is holding breath to see how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will respond.  Originally, Massachusetts sent Microsoft and its file formats packing on the basis that they didn't satisfy the state's test for openness.

Now that Microsoft has issued a special covenant not to sue developers -- even open source developers -- that develop software that supports its XML-based Office file formats, the entire industry (OK, a goodly portion of it) is holding breath to see how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will respond.  Originally, Massachusetts sent Microsoft and its file formats packing on the basis that they didn't satisfy the state's test for openness.  But, in its covenant not to sue, Microsoft has made its terms even more open than they were before.  Just how open? That depends on who you talk to.  Openness is in the eyes of the beholder. 

As I said last week, the move by Microsoft could turn the debate over what is open and what is not into such an extreme exercise in hairsplitting, that government officials with much more to worry about than this XML or that XML will simply tune it out (sort of like asking a beer drinker to tell you the difference between two appellations of the same wine).   But that isn't stopping Microsoft's competitors from trying their hardest to educate certain members of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's administration on the finer art of open standards now that the state appears to be warming up to Microsoft's latest olive branch.  In letter to Mass. Secretary of Administration and Finance Thomas Trimarco that was dated with today's date, Sun's director of corporate standards Carl Cargill wrote:

Just as an agency would not purchase a product before its actual availability, so too would it be a mistake to rely on a single vendor’s promise to submit a new product to a standards body at some point in the future. The Commonwealth owes no less to its taxpaying citizens.....This process should not end with the acceptance of a promise from those who seek to maintain a costly status quo, which accrues only to one company’s bottom line and denies the citizens of the Commonwealth the value they deserve from their tax dollars.

I've posted the full text of the letter here.  So far, this is the only vendor letter I know of.  There could be more in the coming days.

Topics: Open Source

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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