Microsoft blogger draws fire for criticising Massachusetts OpenDoc policy

Microsoft blogger draws fire for criticising Massachusetts OpenDoc policy

Summary: Microsoft Office program manager Brian Jones may have gotten more than he asked for when, in his blog, he attacked the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for moving to the OASIS-backed Open Document (OpenDoc)  file format for productivity applications such as word processing and spreadsheets.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Microsoft Office program manager Brian Jones may have gotten more than he asked for when, in his blog, he attacked the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for moving to the OASIS-backed Open Document (OpenDoc)  file format for productivity applications such as word processing and spreadsheets.  Not only did Jones' blog contain some factual inaccuracies (for example, questioning the finality of the decision as well as the diligence the Commonwealth put into it), the blog spawned a thread of comments that really put the ball into Microsoft's court in terms of its own plans to support open file formats. 

Microsoft is on track  to launch its own, supposedly open, XML-based file format for the next version of Microsoft Office (Office 12) -- a format that is not only not based on OpenDoc, but whose openness has been drawn into question because of incompatibilities with the GNU General Public License. 

It's times like these that I often find myself asking why there's one way (often an open-standard way) that almost every vendor does something and then there's the other way that only Microsoft does something.  MAPI, the protocol behind Microsoft's email and group calendaring technologies is another one of those (I guess standards like SMTP, IMAP and iCAL can't possibly cut it). 

My open question for Brian is, can you or will you support and default to OpenDoc instead? That would end the whole controversy. If not, why not?  Not only that, is it true that we'll have to wait for Office 12?  With all those programmers in Redmond, surely someone up there in the Pacific Northwest can write an upgrade for the current versions of Office. 

Brian, feel free to respond using the comments section below or, better yet, trackback to this blog using your own with this trackback URL (using trackback doesn't require registration on our systems the way comments do).

Topic: Open Source

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  • Typo?

    "...the blog spawned of thread of comments that really put the ball into Microsoft's court in terms of its own plans to support open file formats."

    Do you mean "the blog spawned A thread of comments"?
    arny27@...
    • Yes, typo.

      thanks for the catch. fixed that as well as two others.
      dberlind
  • Classic Microsoft.... what did you expect?

    Microsoft doesn't like standards, unless they are Microsoft standards and they are proprietary. Use of standards is dangerous in their minds in that it might come that much closer to allowing competition. If users aren't dependent on the Microsoft's formats, they might actually be able to use the software they like the best. That would be bad, so sayeth Gates.
    shawkins
    • To be fair

      Standards aren't free to use. For Microsoft's whole history, they've just written the code to suit themselves, often making completely arbitrary decisions (and changing them when they feel like it.)

      Standards -- [b]any[/b] standards -- are incompatible with that kind of programming freedom, and if you're Microsoft you don't have to put up with that kind of annoyance.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Ironic if an open document were unreadable.

    If Microsoft products aren't able to read the documents, then the documents are not going to do much good.

    How many people have you known who have difficulty reading pdf's, the other supposed standard, because they found they needed Reader, and their computers were too old to handle the new software easily?
    I keep a copy of 5.x for emergencies.

    Standards should be based on users, not philosophy.
    Anton Philidor
    • Users and Philosophy

      [i]Standards should be based on users, not philosophy.[/i]

      Anton, I can't believe that you (of all people) would write that.

      I'm sure that if some clerk in the Department of Vital Statistics decided she preferred FrameMaker over Microsoft Word, you'd agree that she shouldn't be able to keep Departmental records in a format of her choosing.

      Well, follow that reasoning.

      The Commonwealth's stockholders (read: voters) had the Board of Directors (read: legislature) institute policies (read: open public document laws) which are incompatible with Microsoft software. The Commonwealth's CIO had the matter investigated, got a staff report, put it out for review, and following review and revision we have the policy described.

      The public review of this policy was one of the most extensively-reviewed ever. In one draft, Massachussetts was prepared to accept WordML -- except Microsoft insisted on too many strings to block interoperability.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Users, plural.

        If the purpose of government action in this case is to make documents available to the largest number of people possible, being open with the documents, then the obvious solution is to use the format which can be read by the most people with the least effort.

        Suppose, though, that the closest thing to a universal format, then standard means of communicating documents of a certain type, happens to be a format created by a private company.

        If someone is philosophically opposed to private ownership, then that's a problem. If someone is interested in the original goal, making the documents available, then which format is used becomes irrelevant.

        To me, governments have a special requirement to avoid responding to interests. The requirement is special because it's so easy to ignore, as you know.

        If an executive agency of government insists upon implementing the dictates of a minority philosophy at the expense of the majority, then we're not talking about the ideal system of republican government.

        Instead of one clerk making documents difficult to use, as in the FrameMaker vs Word analogy you use, we have a committee making documents difficult to use. I fail to see the difference.
        Anton Philidor
        • Edit a sentence

          If someone is philosophically opposed to private ownership, then that's a problem. If someone is interested in the original goal, making the documents available, then the source of the format used becomes irrelevant.
          Anton Philidor
        • Archival

          [i]If the purpose of government action in this case is to make documents available to the largest number of people possible, being open with the documents, then the obvious solution is to use the format which can be read by the most people with the least effort.[/i]

          It's not a popularity contest. It's a matter of statutory requirements for open access. One of the issues is the continued support for the file formats in question, which Microsoft won't (and can't) guarantee with a closed format.

          Bit rot is a serious problem. I've had to do some pretty serious forensics to recover documents prepared with MSWord for MSDOS, and those are only 15 years old. A lot of government docs have to be retained for upwards of 50 years.

          [i]Suppose, though, that the closest thing to a universal format, then standard means of communicating documents of a certain type, happens to be a format created by a private company.[/i]

          "Created by a private company" isn't an issue. Note that Adobe's PDF is acceptable, because it's [b]documented[/b] -- anyone could, if necessary, create a parser for it for some machine that won't exist in our lifetimes.

          The problem with MS document formats is that the only definition for them is "the files produced by this version of this MS software." That just doesn't cut it.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • You mean Microsoft is not sufficiently backward compatible?

            Okay.
            Just deleted a long essay about how good some DOS programs are even by comparison with later versions, and about the amount of stored software that seems to accumulate. I decided I'd be telling you what you already knew.

            But the point is, there are a number of ways to solve the outdated format problem, when a company that cares as much as Microsoft about compatibility slips. No_Ax makes the point that Windows would be less ahm... expansive if they didn't try so hard to be compatible.

            Does make you wonder if the same care will be taken with older versions of the "standard" software, used by comparatively few people over what may well turn out to be a brief period.
            Anton Philidor
          • That's not the point at all

            Microsoft's problems wtih compatability stem from supporting its own ancient garbage, not from support for open standards and formats.

            The use of XML does not make something 'open' by default any more than writing ANSI standard C makes your programs 'open'. Microsoft could have chosen to use open XML formats (or make their own compatible with open licencing) but they chose not to. That's their choice, so be it.

            They deserve no sympathy when users back away from them because of their lack of support for open standards.
            Fred Fredrickson
          • Users can always prefer one product to another.

            And if they choose not to use Microsoft products, they get the advantages and disadvantages of such a choice.

            I would prefer that a vendor choice not be cloaked in so much self-righteousness, though.

            The use of formats available in one way rather than another is only a factor in the decision-making process, to be evaluated based on the organization's predictions of the future and project goals.
            The world will not be a better or worse place as a result of the actions of the State of Massachusetts in choosing a format.
            Anton Philidor
          • I think you're missing the point....

            Mass. is trying to make the documents available to the most people. It's not about who has the greatest share of the market now. It's about how people can access information. That's companies, rich people, and poorer people. The opendoc standard is, of course, open and is used in FREE software. Just like PDFs, are a good standard, because the reader is free, and the documents look alike everywhere. Opendoc is great for EVERYONE, you can open it on MS computer, or a LINUX or BSD or Mac computer with free software.
            I don't see this as sticking it to MS, but rather opening it up for people who don't want to shell out money for MS software to read the documents; and taking it further, until MS makes office for Linux and BSD, I don't think most documents should be archived for public use in any proprietary formats that need paid software to read it.
            el1jones
          • Even if Office...

            ... were issued for Linux and BSD, MA would be remiss if Office were required. Office costs too much.

            Further, Mass should acknowledge what many people are using to access the documents they are trying to provide. For many people that means an old, low powered computer running an out-of-date version of Windows. If these people can't use the documents, the documents are not available to them.

            Worth noting: newer versions of Reader don't run well on very old machines; require too much in the way of resources, RAM, cpu. That can be a factor in considering whether to use pdf.

            I'm not saying that Microsoft has the best solution for this purpose. I am saying that the solution Massachusetts found may not prove successful if it doesn't respond to realities.
            Anton Philidor
    • Re: Ironic if an open document were unreadable.

      [i]Standards should be based on users, not philosophy.[/i]

      If MS Office file formats are to be standards, then where do I find RFC or another spec from which someone can produce an office suite compliant with this standard?

      If you're having a hard time providing one, then I suggest it's not a standard as the word is understood as a term of art.

      What happens to all the Word docs created in 2000
      when they have to be accessed in 2030? Since there's no specification for your "standard" then the state of MA and its citizens will be SOL.

      It doesn't matter if the format is proprietary or open source so long as it's documented and the users' ability to access their historical record isn't threatened. MS Office is not documented so it can't be considered.

      Pretty simple, as someone would say.




      :)
      none none
    • That is the whole point of OASIS opendocument

      So long as you have a text editor and archiver such as 7zip or rar you can read it. Notepad or wordpad are sufficient. But more importantly they will ALWAYS be sufficient.
      Yorick_z
      • So what?

        A) This is true of Word XML formats, and
        B) Microsoft allows OpenOffice to reverse engineer its .doc format anyway. (I'm not sure about Microsoft, but this is usually illegal for the rest of the world.)

        This point is moot.
        opensourceidiot
        • I'm missing the point here.

          Is the Word XML formats an open standard? Last I heard, MS was applying for patents for it.
          Does MS allowing OpenOffice to use the .doc format mean that it will always be so? I don't think so.
          If MS has stated that either of these formats are open for everyone to use forever, I'd like to know when they said it.
          el1jones
  • Microsoft could benefit from this all... If they wanted to.

    I do not like Microsoft and as such I do not use their products (down to the OS). However I can see why they may refuse to support (like in the past) an open standard: How will they keep users interested in their products if they stuck to a standard that many other vendors support? How will they kepp their share of, say, Office products if they were to support and make able their Office products to store data in OpenDocument formats by thefault? I'm pretty sure these are their concerns (if not some more Maquiavelic ones). In the end they're protecting their hegemony, which this whole O-S (Open-Standards/Open-Source) thing threatens.

    They can always resort to support both: Their standard and [b]the[/b] standard in their applications so people can [i]choose[/i] which to use... A bit of ironic, since they (the users) would not have much of an option at the application level... Still it would be a Win-Win (hehe, see the irony there?) situation for Microsoft, since they'll keep on providing the tools, be OpenDocument compliant, and have the abitlity to fully manipulate their own proprietary standard so widely used.
    thetargos
    • No, they can not.

      The OPenDoc standards simply do NOT support the functions and features found in MS Office. See my post to David for an explanation.
      No_Ax_to_Grind