ComputerWorld: Microsoft legislatively TKO's open document formats. At least stateside.

ComputerWorld: Microsoft legislatively TKO's open document formats. At least stateside.

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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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.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • When I first heard this

    [i]"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."[/i]

    I got the feeling that the whole OOXML vs ODF may just become a mute point.

    China now has enough influence on the global market that UOF could become the dominant format just because China adopted by policy.

    I think UOF will slowly spread from China on outward. The United States will be the only big hold out.
    dragosani
  • Why not

    Compete based on merit? Oh wait Microsoft can't do that. They need to use F.U.D.
    and political pressure to win. SSDD.
    Rick_K
    • Competing on merit.

      These are attempts to pass laws which would prevent use of Microsoft formats. That's not merit. That's use of government authority to prevent competition on merit.

      The idea is that Microsoft's format is necessary for the functionality in Office to be available to users. Remove use of the format and you've removed at least some of Office's advantages.

      Market competition by other means.

      There's not a problem with companies or government agencies deciding to use the open formats. That isn't the issue for me. It's use - better, abuse - of government authority to prevent users from having their own choice.

      The abuse can be by passage of laws, as in this case, or by maneuvering by a small group within government, who act to preclude the normal decision-making process involving all those concerned.


      If everyone with an interest wants to use non-Microsoft formats, fine. Because that rarely happens, competitors have decided to expend the money necessary to influence governments. That's not a good form of lobbying.

      IBM and Sun have achieved something unexpected here: they've made Microsoft the laudable advocate of good government.
      Anton Philidor
      • Earth to Anton

        Are you there? An open format will allow anyone to access the data. Use of a
        proprietary format owned by a single entity is anticompetitive, as it locks out
        other vendors. Without competition, you have over priced office suites. Sound like
        MS office to me. It's also imperative that any citizen of the U.S of A be able to
        access the documents. To say that if a citizen doesn't use windows and office they
        should be denied access is government sponsorship of a monopoly. I personally
        have no interest in paying the $400+ for office, should I be locked out? How about
        Linux and Unix users, should they also be locked out? DPF files are ok, as there
        are free (as in beer) readers for the majority of the users available. What to say
        that Microsoft won't lock investigators out of document, that may be harmful to
        Microsoft? What to say Microsoft won't start charging a per view fee on
        documents? I don't have a crystal ball, so I can't say they will. Can you defiantly
        say they won't? Remember Microsoft is working on a plan to charge monthly fees
        for computing in the windows world. The potential for mistakes is real and
        dangerous. So can you say that Microsoft will not hold files hostage at any time? I
        didn't think so. Remember the 12 million false positives in WGA, imagine that
        same scenario happening with .doc files and the trouble it could cause.
        Rick_K
        • Here on Earth...

          ... Microsoft wants third parties to write for its version of Office, and so makes the format as open as possible. Older Office formats are widely implemented, and if formats are selected by the amount of software that can read and work with them, Microsoft's products are, along with txt, the clear winners.

          Just as tribes scattered over the world refer to themselves as The People, your comments demonstrate that some individuals are determined to consider the planets they create and populate alone to be Earth.
          Anton Philidor
  • Politics is only a small part of this story

    The question we should be asking is why State CIO's and IT divisions are not backing the legislative proposals. It's not the lobbying that is killing ODF. It's the lack of support from those who would have been left with the challenge of implementing ODF solutions. The silence of the CIO's is deafening.

    There are three quotes i've seen batted about that pretty much say it all:

    ?Interoperability isn't just a feature. It's the basic requirement for getting your XML file format and applications considered?.....

    <i>?The challenge is that of migrating our existing documents and business processes to XML. The question is which XML? OpenDocument or OpenXML?? .......

    ?Under those conditions, is it even possible to implement OpenDocument?? </i>.......

    The challenge for OpenDocument isn't at the legislative level. Nor is it at the International Standards level. There is a real world question of whether or not the "demand side" of the information technology equation can get from where their at to where they would like to be? Which is ODF.

    Sadly, ODF doesn't get to start with the world as a clean slate. There are upwards of 500 million workgroup desktops bound to MSOffice bound business processes. The documents and business processes that make these critical day to day workgroup-workflow tasks possible are going to transition to XML.

    For ODF, the challenge is that of matching doc for doc, proc for proc, the non disruptive cost Microsoft offers with their OfficeOpenXML plugin.

    The real world doesn't have the luxury of evaluating OpenDocument and OfficeOpenXmL based on the expert level of proper XML, open standards governance, IPR encumbrances, or reuse of existing XML standards. No, instead they have a bigger problem of getting existing documents and business processes into XML. And from there they can move into SOA, SaaS, and the Web 3.0.

    So CIO's are forced by the everyday reality of MSOffice bound business processes to demand from ODF solutions three primary characteristics:

    .... <b>Compatibility</b> with existing file formats (MS Binaries/HTML/XHTML/RTF)

    .... <b>Interoperability</b> (application level - including existing apps like MSOffice!)

    .... <b>Convergence</b> (the portable XML document as the end user interface into information systems that span desktop-server-device-web). If your tied to the desktop, you're dead. But if your an XML file format tied instead to something like the Vista Stack, well, you've got a shot as long as the other guy remains a no show.

    .... <b>Harmonization</b> (the worst of all compromises; the successful implementation of the above three characteristics, but on terms dictated by MOOXML)

    These are serious questions the ODF community has to come to terms with if the demand side of the equation is to have some sort of choice other than OfficeOpenXML.

    That's not to say that the demand side is sitting still. No way. Check out the <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/6474">EU IDABC "Advanced eGovernment" Conference</a> held February 28th-March 1st, 2007 in Berlin. They've got their own <b>"optimized for interoperability"</b> proposal known as ODEF - The Open Document Exchange Format.

    You've got to read this stuff to believe it. No big vendors need apply. No ISO either! I take that as a swipe at both the big vendor standards consortia, OASIS and ECMA. Th eEU IDABC has even gone so far as to identify the <i>"interoperability break points"</i> that can be found throughout ODF and OpenOfficeXML: the "optional" methods of implementation.

    There is a famous quote from the infamous Doc Searls that goes like this, <i>"Open source is where the demand side has taken over their own supply"</i>.

    Could it be that we are now witnessing the same thing with Open Standards? One has to wonder.

    Meanwhile though, i've already my decision to with the marketplace - the demand side. If the EU gives us the ODEF spec, we'll provide them with an ODEF version of our da Vinci plugin for MSOffice. As applications (and application converters :) move to ODEF, i have no doubt OpenDocument will jump to make whatever compatibility-interop-convergence changes needed. And that would be a good thing.

    A very good thing,

    ~ge~
    gary_edwards
    • Hey, Thanks for butchering my line breaks!

      Sorry. Should i repost this?
      gary_edwards
    • Butcher this!

      The question we should be asking is why State CIO's and IT divisions are not backing the legislative proposals? It's not the lobbying that is killing ODF. It's the lack of support from those who would have been left with the challenge of implementing ODF solutions. The silence of the CIO's is deafening. <br><br>

      There are three quotes i've seen batted about that pretty much say it all: <br><br>

      ...... <i>"Interoperability isn't just a feature. It's the basic requirement for getting your XML file format and applications considered"</i><br><br>

      ...... <i>"The challenge is that of migrating our existing documents and business processes to XML. The question is which XML? OpenDocument or OpenXML?" </i><br><br>

      ....... <i>"Under those conditions, is it even possible to implement OpenDocument?" </i><br><br>

      The challenge for OpenDocument isn't at the legislative level. Nor is it at the International Standards level. There is a real world question of whether or not the "demand side" of the information technology equation can get from where their at to where they would like to be? Which is ODF. <br><br>

      Sadly, ODF doesn't get to start with the world as a clean slate. Otherwise this decision would be simple and done. With no amount of political lobbying able to stop real world uptake. ODF wouldn't even need legislative proposals. <br><br>

      But that's not the case. Hardly. There are upwards of 500 million workgroup desktops bound to MSOffice bound business processes. The documents and business processes that make these critical day to day workgroup-workflow tasks possible are going to transition to XML. <br><br>

      For ODF, the challenge is that of matching doc for doc, proc for proc, the non disruptive cost Microsoft offers with their OfficeOpenXML plugin. <br><br>

      The real world doesn't have the luxury of evaluating OpenDocument and OfficeOpenXmL based on the expert level of proper XML, open standards governance, IPR encumbrances, or reuse of existing XML standards. No, instead they have a bigger problem of getting existing documents and business processes into XML. And from there they can move into SOA, SaaS, and the Web 3.0. <br><br>

      So CIO's are forced by the everyday reality of MSOffice bound business processes to demand from ODF solutions three primary characteristics: <br><br>

      <b>.... Compatibility </b>with existing file formats (MS Binaries/HTML/XHTML/RTF) <br><br>

      <b>.... Interoperability</b> (application level - including existing apps like MSOffice!) <br><br>

      <b>.... Convergence </b>(the portable XML document as the end user interface into information systems that span desktop-server-device-web)..... If your tied to the desktop, you're dead. But if your an XML file format tied instead to something like the Vista Stack, well, you've got a shot as long as the other guy remains a no show. <br><br>

      <b>.... Harmonization </b>(the worst of all compromises; the successful implementation of the above three characteristics, but on terms dictated by MOOXML) <br><br>

      These are serious questions the ODF community has to come to terms with if the demand side of the equation is to have some sort of choice other than OfficeOpenXML. <br><br>

      That's not to say that the demand side is sitting still. No way. Check out the <a href=?http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/6474?> EU IDABC "Advanced eGovernment" Conference</a> held February 28th-March 1st, 2007 in Berlin. They've got their own <b>"optimized for interoperability"</b> proposal known as ODEF - The Open Document Exchange Format. <br><br>

      You've got to read this stuff to believe it. No big vendors need apply. No ISO either! I take that as a swipe at both the big vendor standards consortia, OASIS and ECMA. <br><br>

      The EU IDABC has even gone so far as to identify the <b><i>"interoperability break points" </i></b>that can be found throughout ODF and OpenOfficeXML: the "optional" methods of implementation. <br><br>

      There is a famous quote from the infamous Doc Searls that goes like this, <b><i>"Open source is where the demand side has taken over their own supply". </i></b> <br><br>

      Could it be that we are now witnessing the same thing with Open Standards? One has to wonder. <br><br>

      Meanwhile though, The OpenDocument Foundation has made the decision to go with the marketplace - to stick with the demand side. If the EU gives us the ODEF spec, we'll provide them with an ODEF version of our da Vinci plugin for MSOffice. As applications (and application converters :)) move to ODEF, i have no doubt OpenDocument will jump to make whatever compatibility-interop-convergence changes needed. And that would be a good thing. <br><br>

      A very good thing, <br>
      ~ge~
      gary_edwards
  • Almost every genius who ever lived

    Was a practical idiot, or near unto an
    idiot, at least, if you check your history.
    So most of the really smart people have
    no "common sense".

    Software is mathmatecal algorithms. Logic
    can be applied to software, but software
    cannot be applied to logic. So those who
    apply their genius to software management
    (like document formats, standards, and
    systems) usually confound the already
    confused reader with their circular and
    bass-ackward reasoning. It's really a shame
    that so many obviously intelligent people
    (like Anton, for example) is happy to be
    spinmeisters for Microsoft (or any other
    predatory corporation, for that matter).

    The simple facts are, Microsoft is bent on
    world domination (which can easily be
    confirmed with a small amount of research),
    and has amassed huge fortunes (which will be
    evident from aforementioned research),
    enough to implement their plans and squash
    any competition.

    The details of how, when, and why they do it
    can be argued from now on, but as long as
    political, Government, and big media
    prostitute themselves for money (or power),
    nothing will stop Microsoft.

    Many thanks to gary_edwards. Were I capable,
    I would be right beside you in the trenches
    swatting vermin with my cane or shooting
    them with my muzzle-loader.
    Ole Man