Means, motive, and opportunity

Means, motive, and opportunity

Summary: Fellow BTL blogger David Berlind calls the Massachusetts vs. Microsoft battle over open formats the "new ground zero for the biggest battle this industry has seen in years.

TOPICS: Government

Fellow BTL blogger David Berlind calls the Massachusetts vs. Microsoft battle over open formats the "new ground zero for the biggest battle this industry has seen in years."  Some might scoff at that as journalistic hyperbole, but I agree with him.  I think more states, and maybe some federal agencies, will jump on the bandwagon and this will prove to be a watershed event; when dozens of governments--and all their contractors--are doing business without Office, CIOs in other industries will be sure to take note.  Here are the three important dominoes that have lined up in this battle. 

The Enterprise Technical Reference Manual (ETRM) that is at the heart of this battle is part of Massachusetts' IT governance process.  Governments, particularly state governments and federal agencies are big on enterprise architecture and IT governance.  I think the reason comes down to a need for governance in large, distributed organizations and a belief that governance matters.  NASCIO, the National Association of State CIOs has been working on enterprise architectures and IT governance for years now and it's taking hold.  Consequently, the ETRM process isn't unique to Massachusetts.  Most states and federal agencies have something similar and those documents carry a lot of power.  David's comprehensive report on the process Massachusetts followed in the ETRM process should be a must read for any government CIO or IT manager.  This may seem like a big yawn to IT managers in private industry, but this sort of thing is day-to-day business in government IT operations.

States are under enormous pressure to open up IT systems and preserve public records in open, readable-by-posterity formats. This pressure comes from three sources: FOIA-like laws, eGovernment, and archivists.  FOIA and its state counterparts make nearly every document a government employee creates a "public record."  eGovernment argues that government processes should be open to all--even those without Microsoft Office.  Archiving government records in a way that they are accessible in 20, 50, or even 100 years is a real concern for government agencies.  

Microsoft has used strong-arm tactics against states in the past and I'd bet continues to do so.  I doubt there are very many CIOs in state and federal agencies who wouldn't love to abandon Office and its licensing fees, if they thought their users would let them get away with it.  When they see Massachusetts managing without Office, that fear will be gone. Being first is a big fear for most government IT groups.  Massachusetts is paving a path that other states will find much easier to follow. 

These three come down to means, motive and opportunity--it's going to be very tempting for other CIOs to pull the trigger.

Topic: Government

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  • How to standardize on MS file formats

    Since MS file formats are undocumented, about the only way that a government agency can officially standardize on MS formats is to write a specification that says, in effect, "We will use either the current or immediately preceeding version of Microsoft Office for all internal uses, and our official file formats are whatever those versions of Microsoft Office produce."

    Which should last a few hours after someone takes them to court for violating open-bidding laws. The United States Department of Justice tried that a few years ago and the United States Supreme Court smacked them for it.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Incorrect

      Actually a quick web search reveals that the formats are in fact documented. I'm not quite sure how this FUD got started. Likely Berlind and other bloggers/jounalists(sic) started that and was perpetuated by countless other ignorant folks who have never bothered to look.

      The binary formats are accessible through the Office API's and through their structured storage API's. And can also be accessed directly via a licensing program. In addition you can easily output and consume XML or HTML (which is also documented) as well as RFT which, by the way, is an ANSI standard.

      This information is all available here:;en-us;840817
      • Re: Incorrect

        Um, the API is a PROGRAMMING INTERFACE. That means you require the Software libraries to use it. Guess what, they are only provided for the MS OS.

        The Gov't licenses are allowed for INTERNAL USE. If the documents are of public record, wouldn't that put you in violation of the license?

        RTF (what you called RFT) is a format that is open, but is pretty lame in content formatting.
      • Re: Incorrect

        Also, we are again required to license the format. Why is it that people think it is fine for the content of documents to be controlled by a license holder? The content should remain free for you to with as you wish.

        I guess a possible solution would be to store the content separate from the format. At least that way you can still read it without the pretty format.

        MS have also decided that they want their formats to be the default (not allowed to be set by user prefereces). So now you (the tax payer) will have to pay for every save of a document and the re-saving whan the user forgets to choose the "open" format for the document.
        • Hmm, isn't the GPL a license also?

          FOSS people don't seem to have a problem using a license, why is that a problem for you?
          • Re: Hmm, isn't the GPL a license also?

            [i]FOSS people don't seem to have a problem using a license, why is that a problem for you?[/i]

            Actually the GPL is a copyright license, not a EULA/contract. It doesn't say what you can and can't do with the software, only what you have to do if you redistribute it.

            none none
          • Yes it is...

            and it's free and non-restrictive in how you use the software only how may re-distribute it if that is the case. Otherwise it is open and free for all to use.
            Linux Advocate
  • Mass. decision proof of no Office monopoly

    Microsoft is often accused of having two monopolies: Windows and Office. The Windows monopoly was declared by a court, the Office one never was.

    Decisions like Massachusetts', and the ripple effect you describe, prove once and for all that Microsoft doesn't have a monopoly with Office and that they never did, otherwise this would never be possible.
    • Au contraire ...

      The fact that the MA decision is such a huge story, and that Microsoft is kicking up a major hissy fit about it is EXACTLY the proof that even Microsoft considers Office a monopoly ... because they can't fathom that someone could even CONSIDER not using Office. Now once the MA decision does the inevitable trickle-down to other contractors/governments/etc that brought Office to it's present position of dominance ... at THAT point it'd be safe to say there's no monopoly. Currently about the only way to deal with any government body around the world is to have Office. If that's not a monopoly (convicted or not), what is?
      • Wrong

        A monopoly happens when there is a complete barrier to entry for any would-be competitor who wants to "open shop." What MS has instead is a very, very entrenched market share that will be very, very difficult to surmount.

        The MA decision is proof that competition is possible, if difficult. No one ever said being in business should be easy.

        Less whining, more crushing Microsoft in the marketplace...
        • NO! You are wrong!!!

          Please do a Google search of the word "Monopoly" then, based on the information, you stand corrected!
    • ???

      How do you figure? Just because they never had a court of law decide that Office was also a monopoly? Please look up a few of the definitions of the word, then reply back ;-)
  • ...pull the trigger on Office?

    I've been unhappy with office since it replaced Word Perfect. WP does so many things better than Word; and Quattro Pro is at least the equal of Excel if not the superior spreadsheet. And I can buy a copy of Word Perfect for $15, to go with any new computer I build and sell (or a copy for myself) whereas my cheapest shot at Word runs to the $200 range. That for a program that doesn't do anything by comparison to WP.

    So maybe all these States are finally getting the message - which is best? Now all we've gotta do is convince the educational schools to teach WP instead of Word! Then we'll be getting somewhere.

    Windy -
    • Quattro?

      "Quattro Pro is at least the equal of Excel if not the superior spreadsheet."

      You're kidding, right? That might be true if you're keeping track of the home milk budget. I have to assume you don't do work building solutions for businesses that use XML and DB conectivity as a way of life.
  • PDF exception

    What will probably happen is everyone in state governement will upgrade to MS Office's next generation because it writes PDF and that's an acceptable "open" format.

    Given that we still run Office 97 on about a third of our computers and 2003 on almost none, this will probably end up being a huge windfall for Microsoft.
    • It isn't the format per se

      When it comes to government use, all data must be de facto accessed and stored using a public domain graphic/text standard. Microsoft will either understand this or be left in the wings. Microsoft?s business model is of absolute no concern to mankind and its history.

      The problem is that we are discussing something as technology users that has a root issue that is technology independent. Government papers are the backbone of the history of this country. Notes, letters, and paper documents of all kinds have been the fodder for the historians. But the fundamentals have changed. In the 21st century we have moved from ink on paper to binary bits in some type of storage medium.

      What Massachusetts is attempting to achieve is an electronic format that is as friendly to researchers 50 years in the future as the writings of Eisenhower are to us now.

      We have already failed this goal with our proprietary email databases. Most emails consist of simple text and html (open, unlicensed formats) but the way they are stored in the email program?s database is not. Thus all of the correspondence of even 5 years ago is quickly becoming undecipherable unless we take affirmative action to maintain email database decoding software on the latest operating systems.

      So the government is attempting to put in place a system that is simple to decode in the near and far future. CD?s when used as backup of file images have an estimated lifetime of at least 100 years. DVD?s just now coming into use as backup storage are about the same. The problem is how to decode the information 100 years from now.

      The barrier to decoding we are discussing is the problem of lack of public domain of the storage format. It is irresponsible for government documents to be saved in a format which requires license from a 3rd party to decode. I don?t care if the format is documented. It MUST be free to use or else the 3rd party can blackmail the government into any fee they wish to charge.
    • PDF is read only

      You don't update PDF files, it is not an acceptable replacement for other formats if you need to be able to update documents.
  • OpenSource Motives

    Massachusetts and Utah, huh?

    Wasn't Novell (and WordPerfect) from Utah? Lotus (as in Lotus Notes) / IBM in Massachusetts, as well as many other technology companies.

    I think the politicians in these two states have reasons to support the demise of Microsoft's market share.

    Next look for the politicians in Washington State to declare how wonderful MS Office is.

    Always ask: WHY?