Microsoft and public access

Summary:As long as Microsoft is unwilling to guarantee that documents created with its tools are readable from any platform, they should expect to be cut out of the public sector.

The arrogance of Microsoft personnel never ceases to amaze me. I am not quite sure why the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should enter the Open Document Format discussion at all, but it seems pretty clear to me that Massachusetts takes obligations to its citizens quite seriously.

The Open Document Format debate, as spotlighted in David Berlind's recent Microsoft vs. Mass., has one component that no one in the public sector should be dismissing--that of access to public information.

In a recent blog, it was pointed out that critical public access to applications for relief were noted to require the user to have IE on their home computers. Of course, this is common practice -- but should it be the practice anywhere in the public sector?

Obligating a citizen to download a free document reader (one that runs under any operating system available today) is one thing, but obligating a citizen to own a Windows-based system and MS-Office is quite another. So what if 400 million people use MS-Office everyday? We can say with absolute certainty that there are people in Massachusetts who own Macintosh computers and Linux computers and UNIX computers.

I didn't see anything in David's article that suggested the the Commonwealth of Massachusetts objected to Microsoft protecting its IP. All they were saying is that if Microsoft wanted them to use its document formats, that Microsoft needed to make those formats accessible to those who did not own Windows and Office. Seems reasonable to me.

Sure, today you can read Microsoft document formats in StarOffice, and that is likely to continue -- just as long as Sun and Microsoft are collaborating. But, it wasn't all that long ago that Microsoft and Sun were at each other's throats. And judging by the twists and turns in Microsoft's long-running "relationship" with IBM, we have no reason to assume that Bill Gates and Scott McNealy will not be sniping at one another once again -- any day now. OpenOffice is even more vulnerable to Microsoft's urge to raise IP issues every time someone downloads it for free.

As long as Microsoft is unwilling to guarantee that documents created with its tools are readable from any platform that the citizens of any state or nation might wish to use, they should expect to be cut out of the public sector -- where access to public information is a protected right.

Topics: Microsoft

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