Microsoft's claims of foul play in Massachusetts don't hold up

Microsoft's claims of foul play in Massachusetts don't hold up

Summary: Three weeks after Massachusetts ratified its latest Enterprise Technical Reference Model -- a statewide standard that, starting January 1, 2007, disallows the use of Microsoft's Office file formats in favor of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) -- Microsoft is taking its case to the court of public opinion.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Three weeks after Massachusetts ratified its latest Enterprise Technical Reference Model -- a statewide standard that, starting January 1, 2007, disallows the use of Microsoft's Office file formats in favor of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) -- Microsoft is taking its case to the court of public opinion.  In the process, Alan Yates, general manager in Microsoft's Information Worker Group (the group that Office is a part of) contacted me to see if I was interested in hearing Microsoft's side of the story. 

Although Yates fell short of pointing the finger at any one particular individual, he claims that Microsoft's file formats -- officially called the Office XML Reference Schema -- never had a chance of being selected by Massachusetts.  If you believe what Yates has to say, the order of events alone suggests that the selection process was mysteriously stacked against Microsoft in such a way that ODF was assured of selection and Microsoft was not.  Yates suggests for example, that by the time Microsoft had the opportunity to officially respond to a draft of the state's standard, the decision was actually fait accompli and there was nothing that Microsoft could have said or done change the outcome. 

In suggesting that there was more to the process than meets the eye -- perhaps an as of yet undisclosed agenda (for example, an anti-Microsoft one) -- Microsoft is sticking to three major points.  First, contrary to the findings of state officials, Microsoft's patent license to its Office XML Reference Schema is legally open enough to support the state's main requirements of sovereignty and access to public documents in perpetuity.  Microsoft  continues to argue this point as though any reasonable person would see it the same way and to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.  Second, in a whistle-blowing call of illegal procedure, Microsoft says its officials were not given the same opportunities to hear and address the state's concerns that supporters of ODF were. When these two points are taken together, Microsoft claims that its difficult to reach any conclusion but the one that suggests other forces were at work: forces that guaranteed the defeat of Microsoft.

The third point is that it doesn't need to support ODF in Microsoft Office.  Although Yates and I didn't discuss this issue, Massachusetts officials say they asked Microsoft to add support for ODF to Office.  But so far, the only response from Microsoft has been to discredit ODF on the basis of technical inferiority.

After hearing Yates out, I decided to go deep to get to the truth (perhaps you've noticed that my blogging volume has been off this week). In my investigative report, I prove that Yates is correct when it comes to the order of events and even concur that I might have reached the same conclusion that he did: that something was fishy. But the deeper I probed, the more I found that when it comes to Massachusetts' final decision, the only organization that Yates should be pointing the finger at is his own. 

Not only has the Commonwealth of Massachusetts catapulted itself to a leadership position when it comes to the mixture of technology and democratic government, the ball is actually still in Microsoft's court.  In fact, Microsoft has not one, but two options to assure itself that Microsoft Office will still be an option for the state's 173 agencies.   However, in the bigger picture, what most people may not realize is that Massachusetts is the new ground zero for the biggest battle this industry has seen in years.  In what I can only describe as one of the most masterful games of industry chess I've seen in years, some of Microsoft's biggest competitors including IBM, Sun, and Adobe took advantage of a tool that until now, may not have been available in their arsenals: Democracy. With dozens, perhaps hundreds of other governments and organizations monitoring the Massachusetts situation -- a situation that's easy to emulate -- the Microsoft franchise now faces a new and very real threat.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • M$ will drop the ball on this one

    I imagine M$ won't budge on this one. For one, it thinks its tech and formats are so superior to anything else, that they won't even considering changing. And second, they have a exagerated view of M$ office's importance in the world. I bet the powers that be at Redmond are counting on Mass. not being able to get along without their precious Office product. In their world, there is nothing else other then Office. Fortunatly there are brave soles in the world who have the guts to challenge the status quo and put aside the tall, cool and expensive glass of M$ koolaid that most seem to love so well. Bravo Massachusetts!
    • They already have!

      This looks like another one of M$'s power struggle approaches to resolving a very simple problem. They had an opportunity to modify their code so that the documents created by their Office products would be based on an open standard. They decided not to do that and lost the opportunity to maintain their dominance on the Mass. State desktop.

      The day is coming where everything will need to have interoperability. All office products will need to talk to each other. All operating systems will need to be able to communicate with each other. The Internet and the movement of many applications to the Internet will demand this. But M$ has built their empire on proprietary software and will fight open standards every step of the way.

      It is not in M$'s best interest to have to compete with "Open" anything.
    • Not buying?

      Gee...can't get your customers (or potential customers) to buy your stuff? Throw more FUD, threaten legal action or spout 'legaleeze', or shout and scare them into the purchase!

      I thought MS was the 'marketing miracle' of software companies. Looks like MS just can't STAND that someone, anyone, will NOT purchase their wares. Sorry, MS, improve your public image and try lowering prices to get customers to accept you. Do NOT threaten and start 'name-calling' ~ that is NOT the way to win customers (hint: don't go to a higher level and convince them the lower level has no idea what is going on. It only makes you look like a movie production house)
  • This is absurd

    We are talking about a file format. Microsoft is bent out of
    shape because Massachusetts chose open over proprietary?
    That decision has nothing to do with Microsoft, absolutely

    If MS was as good as they say they are, they'd support ODF
    in a flash. But MS has chosen to make this an issue, they
    are challenging the right of a state government to decide
    what standards it will or wont use. MS are virtually saying
    "Use our proprietary format to the exclusion of all others or
    we will pester you in every court in the land until we cost
    you so much money you'll have to cave in."

    If there were no significant benefit to MS from
    Massachusetts using their formats, why are they so hell
    bent on forcing the issue? This is facism writ large.
    Fred Fredrickson
    • Cool yourself down

      I've read about this issue quite a bit. MS had no problem with MA including ODF and PDF in their standard. They wanted to be included as well. MA chose to include it, but then had second thoughts once many loud voices came in and said it was unacceptable, and considered the idea that MA wouldn't want to exclude OSS from their choice of software in the future, which could be hindered by using MS's file format. It's just that now that "future" is closer than they let on.

      It's not fascism. MS says they believe that the committee did not follow through on due process in their selection. David admits after doing his research that MA was not as accomodating to MS as they could've been, in terms of letting them know ahead of time in no uncertain terms that the format license was unacceptable and allow MS to make more concessions if they chose to engage in that. At the same time David thinks that all the signs were there if MS would've just paid attention.
      Mark Miller
      • Then you also read

        That Massachussets requested the company open its xml format and it declined. MS was free to bring its format forward for consideration and determined not to. It can also offer ODF storage and retrievalin Office, although posters here have predetermined that it will not. Fine, it's a business decision on MS part - participate or not. That door is still open.
      • Way to win customers!

        Cheers to MS for threating legal action because MA did NOT accept MS as a vendor. Gee...I thought this was a free country and CUSTOMERS can choose who their vendor is, what products they purchase, and the price & conditions of that purchase. Guess if MS has it's way, it will be ILLEGAL to purchase non-MS products. What a bunch of hooey's they are. MS has LOST IT! NUTZ~ all o' them!
        • Governments are different from corporations

          in terms of their procurement process. MS wouldn't be able to do that with a corporation, unless there was a contract involvement that stipulated against the action.
          Mark Miller
        • Government agencies are supposed to be a level play field.

          Using "Massachusetts" and "free country" in the same paragraph is a bit too much for me to swallow, for starters. But we'll leave the leftist, anti-capitalists for another day.

          Yes, parties have the free right to choose their vendors. However, government agencies are funded by taxpayer dollars--they same dollars that Microsoft sends billions of to DC (so that they can turn around and pass more anti-capitalist legislation). Because governments are (supposed to be--ha-ha) NON-PROFIT, they must crete a level-playing field when creating contracts and allowing private and public vendors to bid on them.

          If one thing is very clear here, Massachusetts--a state known far and wide for being a socialist state--did not do that. They failed to create a level-marketplace in which ALL vendors could bid fairly, under the identical set of knowledge without any advantages.

          You'll never convince me that Massachusetts did not already exclude MicroSoft before the proposed contract terms were written.

          Does this justify everything MicroSoft did or did not do in this case? No. But I think MicroSoft very well may have solid grounds for legal action here--whether or not it is a commercially viable one notwithstanding.
    • Buy a clue, that is NOT what happened.

      "We are talking about a file format. Microsoft is bent out of shape because Massachusetts chose open over proprietary?"

      That is NOT what happened at all!!! Mass. could have (and should have) said they wanted an open format that met a certain set of criteria, NOT pick the particular tech and force it down everyone's throat. There is a HUGE difference in these two actions and I am certain court will explain it better than I.
      • Funny thing though

        >>Mass. could have (and should have) said they wanted an open format that met a certain set of criteria, NOT pick the particular tech and force it down everyone's throat.<<

        You just described precisely what was done. And incidentally it was in an open and above-board forum. Pity Mass didn't go for an encumbered source so you could have had an application for your handy catch phrase. But hang in there - it'll come along.

        • You need a new source of information.

          They did NOT set a bar, they named a technology. In a properly formated bid/rule, a specific product or technology is NEVER named. Doing so is the very grounds used by qa court of law to throw things like this out.

          But hey, don't listen to me, wait and see what happens in court.
          • What the *** are you talking about?

            Court? Who's going to court?

            BTW, your contention that a specific standard is never named is 100% wrong. Procurements almost always set explicit requirement for appropriate standards, be they TCP/IP, RDBMS, GOSIP, weight, power, you name it. An unnecessarily restricitve standard could be subject to protest, but even you wouldn't make the claim that ODF is overly strict -- would you?

            Notice, by the way, that Massachusetts has not named a specific produc or technology, nor does it seem that there would be any benefit from doing so. In future acquisitions it moght make specific performance requirements (responsiveness, file sizes), but thus far the on;y news is of the required formats. Not much point in jumping to the conclusion about what the state might do as a result of prior totally ineffective antitrust case. Wait for some overt and inappropriate action, rather than assuming future conduct.
          • The Customer Is Always Right

            MA is the customer, and they have the perfect right to choose the
            products and services they need !

            If M$ can't be bothered to suit the needs of a customer, then they
            deserve to lose the customer.
      • Oh, I see...

        "Mass. could have (and should have) said they wanted an open format that met a certain set of criteria, NOT pick the particular tech and force it down everyone's throat."

        Picking MS tech and forcing that down everyone's throat is advisable, though.

        Among the criteria, which were indeed pointed out, is non-proprietary. Sure, it makes it obvious they knew it would exclude MS' XML format, and they willingly did so.

        But do they have a choice or not?
      • Here you go again...

        The court is not supposed to be involved in these issues, according to many of your 'MS is not guilty of anti-competitive behavior' posts. Now the courts are to get involve to FORCE customers to purchase from MS??? Get a clue! NO ONE WANTS MS anymore! Only the old cronies and those who make a living off of point-and-click.
  • Open Standards ensure interoperability & accessibility

    Microsoft is dangerous to freedom, democracy and sovereignty.
    Microsoft's closed formats are platform dependent and encumbered with patents and therefore all other platforms may be denied access. This happens every day and most noticeable during hurricane Katrina (Mac and Linux users were denied access to Government services because of the Government using Microsoft's formats):,1895,1857300,00.asp

    Open Standards like the OpenDocument Format provides interoperability & accessibility for everyone.
    • In theory

      Yes, so long as everyone can read it in practice, not just in theory. The closest we have to an effective interoperable format today is PDF, because so many people have the Acrobat Reader. How many use ODF today? A fraction of a percent. We'll have to see how well ODF does in the future. Just because a format is an open standard doesn't mean it insures interoperability. The other part of the equation is adoption of the format.
      Mark Miller
      • EVERYONE can have FREE access to Open Standards

        But EVERYONE is at the mercy of Microsoft and it's in their interest to keep everyone addicted to their proprietary formats just like drug dealers.

        EVERYONE can download for FREE which uses ODF on ANY platform:

        NOBODY can legally download Microsoft Office for FREE.

        Microsoft Office is not available on Linux.

        People need to smarten up and wake up to realize the monopoly and addiction caused by Microsoft.

        Think About It!
      • The rest of the story

        [i]We'll have to see how well ODF does in the future.[/i]

        If you read around in other channels, you'll see that the Big Guns in SOA are going wild using ODF. The big name backers alone (IBM, Sun, Boeing, etc.) have enough throw weight to guarantee lasting success.
        Yagotta B. Kidding