Should more public agencies heed Massachusetts' OpenDoc policy?

Should more public agencies heed Massachusetts' OpenDoc policy?

Summary: If there ever was a value statement from a public official regarding the reasons for moving to open standards, perhaps that statement came from Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

TOPICS: Microsoft

If there ever was a value statement from a public official regarding the reasons for moving to open standards, perhaps that statement came from Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  According to a Computer Reseller News report written by Paula Rooney:

Kriss emphasized, however, that the state is not moving to open standards for economic reasons but to protect the right of the public to open and free access to public documents for the foreseeable future. "What we've backed away from at this point is the use of a proprietary standard and we want standards that are published and free of legal encumbrances, and we don’t want two standards," Kriss said.

It's too bad the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn't have the same foresight.  As fellow ZDNet blogger Paul Murphy points out, FEMA's online registration area for disaster aid is only accessible, according to FEMA's Web site, by Internet Explorer 6.  I confirmed the problem by going down FEMA's registration path, clicking on Register for Asssitance from this page, and sure enough, I was stopped dead in my tracks (I was using Firefox).  The IE6 requirement raises questions about the Federal government's own public access policy, particulary since IE6 isn't something that all of the public has on their computers (eg: Macs and Linux boxes). 

FEMA isn't alone in committing a public access faux pas.  The US Copyright Office just recently said it's moving forward with Oct. 24, 2005 as the launch date for its online preregistration system despite the revelation that it's not accessible to users of Safari, Opera, or Firefox.   According to a ZDNet news report, Netscape Navigator 7.0.2 is the only supported browser in addition to Internet Explorer.  Ironically, the preregistration system was developed by Siebel Systems -- a software company that isn't exactly Microsoft's biggest supporter now that Microsoft is going after Siebel's prized CRM market.

Going back to the CRN story (the headline reads "Microsoft Blasts Massachusetts' New XML Policy"), Microsoft's general manager for its Information Worker Business Strategy Alan Yates answered "No" when asked if support for OpenDocument was potentially in the cards for next version of Microsoft Office (currently referred to as Office 12).  Meanwhile, whereas the story notes that "If [the policy] goes into effect, IT systems integrators and solution providers would have to support the OpenDoc format in order to do business with the state," Kriss acknowledged (according to the same story) that if Microsoft doesn't budge on OpenDoc support, that Microsoft Office could be eliminated across Massachusetts' many state agencies.

My hunch is that there are plenty of government agencies, both domestic and foreign watching this one and that, in this game of chicken, Microsoft will not win.  Whether Massachusetts alone could end up breaking Microsoft's back remains to be seen.  Looking at the FEMA and US Copyright Office snafus, other government organizations could realize that they too are sacrificing equal access to documents and records (access that's mandated by law) through the use of proprietary document formats and network protocols.

If word gets out that Massachusetts is having a much easier time making the transition to OpenDoc than Microsoft is predicting,  then other governments will follow suit, and Microsoft will be left with no choice but to provide support for OpenDoc in its Office suite (in addition to the other formats it already plans to support).  Particularly when it realizes that once Office users start ditching Office, ditching Windows might not be that far behind (since Office is one of those products that's keeping people attached to Windows).

That said, if Microsoft does support OpenDoc in Office, I wouldn't be surprised if buyers get faced with two requirements in order to get that support.  First, they'll have to upgrade to Office 12.  Second, support for OpenDoc will come by way of a plug-in that comes at an additional cost.  If Microsoft is smart (and it is), the total out of pocket cost to customers will be reasonable when compared to what it might cost those same customers to throw Office out and start with something new that supports OpenDoc like StarOffice (and I mean all costs -- everything from acquisition to support contracts to training).

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Credit where credit is due

    I think you'll find that every point Mr. Kriss made was made, quite elegantly, several years earlier by [url=""]DR. EDGAR DAVID VILLANUEVA NU?EZ[/url]

    I'm told by native Spanish speakers, by the way, that the original is an utter marvel of elegant rhetoric and well worth reading just for the language.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • It's my understanding that the FEMA Page

    Will let you in and work if you set the browser agent in Safari or Firefox to return back IE.
    • correct link to Open Letter to microsoft

      this is the correct link to the Open letter to Microsoft from a peruvian congressman

      BTW in Peru there is not a law to enforce the use of Open standars.... WHY?? Well Micosoft push very hard , Redmond make a call to Peruvian president and now we have new computers (with MS WIN of course) for a school program provided by the Bill Gates and wife foundation and a promise for support on high level education on Microsoft products VS Studio and .Net

      Microsoft is also working on a brain-washing strategy in Peru with kind-of certification ("Expert on WordPad", "Word analyst" and others like this) and a well publiciced agreement beteween Peru's goverment a Microsoft:
  • lets face the truth

    the only reason why this is brought up is because a couple of the zdnet staffers are anti-Microsoft.

    Up until yesterday they were singing the tune of Linux being free and the TCO was better. Even Kriss admits that the state is not moving to open standards for economic reasons.

    Kriss says "to open and free access to public documents for the foreseeable future".
    This is a bunch of bull. Majority of the people wont be able to access the documents because the are not in Word.
    Also how about selecting software based on which is better in which case Microsoft Office would win hands down.

    If the cost of migration goes beyond budget and/or the productivity of employees decreases and/or the support cost of Open Office incereases, is Kriss' head going to roll. After all he should held accountable.
    • But an OpenDoc application is freely downloadable.

      So everyone WILL be able to access MA's documents, and at ZERO cost if they are using OpenOffice. So what's the problem?

      "Better" is a relative term. You obviously aren't including "freedom" in your definition. However, MA is.

      BTW, OpenOffice can read Word documents too.
    • Oh Noooo, another Microsoft Zealot!!!!!

      "Kriss says "to open and free access to public documents for the
      foreseeable future".
      This is a bunch of bull. Majority of the people wont be able to
      access the documents because the are not in Word."

      Speaking of bull, I've shown a big bull patty above.

      This requirement is a good one. Restricting access to public
      documents to windows (and MS office) users only is
      discrimination. Say Jim the IT tech has Linux, he's a tax payer
      and should have the same access as a windows user. Say John
      has a Mac, again he should have the same access. Granted John
      would only have to pay $499 for such access, but still he
      shouldn't have to incur the cost. He has already paid for the
      public documents, through his taxes. To say that you can't
      access public documents (which your taxes pay for) is wrong on
      so many levels. To say that public documents should be
      beholden to any company is also wrong. Take for example .pdf
      files, there are free readers. For .doc files there are no free
      readers for all OSes. It's also shown that the majority of windows
      users don't have office. Joe Sixpack on his $300 dell isn't going
      to spend $600 for MS office. Also of note, these documents
      would force all users of older versions of office to upgrade to a
      newer (more expensive) version of office. This only serves to
      promote abuse of monopoly power on Microsoft's behalf.
    • Somewhat true

      While I agree with your point that many of the employees of ZDNet are Linux evangelists, you need to place some value on the cost (or lack of) that you get from Open Office. Being free does add value to the package. There is a lot more support required for the open source environment than many of the open source supporters would have the public believe, but for some packages such as Open Office I don't think that it is any more than what MS Office requires. At least that has been my experience. I get paid a little more (as in more billable hours) because I need to support Linux is some environments. Many of the Linux supporters that respond here probably also profit from the additional support that open source requires and perhaps that explains their bias.

      While a small (microscopic) part of the market does not have *access* to IE 6, there are those that do not and that is a barrier that should not exist. As a Microsoft developer I know that with the current tools it is not difficult (almost impossible) to create pages that are compatible with other browsers and that is the real problem. The real fault is that the developers that they used were incompetent.

      The rest of the open source rhetoric that appears in this article is just the usual BS which I have come to expect from these people. If the developers had hardwired it to Firefox I doubt that Berlind or Murphy would have said a word.
      • microscopic?

        While the Macintosh share of the market may be small, it is hardly microscopic and there is no IE6 on that platform. There is also no IE6 on Linux, Solaris, HP-UX or AIX. When you combine the desktop users of these platforms I think significant applies more than small.

        If you would use a web page developing program that was standards complient instead of Microsofts bloated and broken tools it would be easy to create web pages that are compatible with most browsers, including IE6. You just could not use ActiveX.
      • Microsoft cost too much to get away from...?

        The point could not have escaped you more....
        " The rest of the open source rhetoric that appears in this article is just the usual BS which I have come to expect from these people. If the developers had hardwired it to Firefox I doubt that Berlind or Murphy would have said a word."

        Just a heads up but that is the whole point of the discussion....If it was written for Firefox ALL platforms could read it.

        Don't be scared to get away from Microsoft, open source does not mean free (i.e. Redhat), please look into the future and see beyond your fears.

        For interesting insight and reading:
        • If it was written for Firefox ALL platforms could read it. - are you sure?

          I've just coded some little piece of website not even online) - If you program for Firefox on Windows, small discrepancies will appear on the same for GNU/Linux, pretty much the same for Konqueror (I didn't try Nautilus), will probably show up all right on Opera, can be seen with a text-only browser like Lynx... But needs a compatibility mode for IE :p. So no, coding for Firefox won't make it OK everywhere: only OK for most, except IE.
          Mitch 74
  • ALL government documents should clearly be in an open format....

    Come on folks. I mean, "duh". We are talking about documents that by the people, of the people and for the people. With that in mind, there is absolutely no friggin' way we should allow these documents to be stored in any kind of proprietary format.

    Get this through your head: "MICROSOFT IS NOT A STANDARDS BODY". They are a corporation whose only purpose is to get every bit of money that they can get.... from you, from me, and yes, from the government. To think that "the people" would be REQUIRED to use software that reads a Microsoft format is beyond absurd.

    If the format is not free, open, and without license overhead, it simply shouldn't be used by government.

    Microsoft is trying to deny that which is so clearly obvious. Of course they would do that. If we aren't required to use Word and Excel files, why would we necessarily be motivated to shell out big bucks to buy Word and Excel? THAT is what Microsoft doesn't like and that is why they are fighting and criticizing this move by the state of MA.
  • Word access is free

    Since OpenOffice reads Word documents, I don't see where the argument is that people don't have access to Word documents, as OpenOffice is free (even if it is a pig on resources and won't run on older machines). Also, if I remember correctly, doesn't MS have a free Word Viewer?

    If I were a taxpayer in MA, I would be more concerned about the amount of my tax dollars that will go into converting to OpenDoc, and possibly converting from using Word to OpenOffice.
    • Word is also owned by Microsoft...

      Therein lies the problem. Microsoft owns the product and can do anything they want, license anything they want, and un-license anything they want.

      Should the entire country be forced to rely on a format owned by one company? Ummm, how about NO!

      Does Microsoft have a free Word viewer? Perhaps. How long will it stay free? Is it patented/copyrighted by Microsoft? YES! Once again, you want the whole country to be subject to the whims of Microsoft.

      It is clearly about damn time that Microsoft accept an open format and build that into their product. If they want to keep the Word format as an option, then fine, good for them. However, they should NOT be the sole format. No company should be allowed to wield that much power over documents that belong to the general public.
    • Not for long

      The next version of Microsoft Office will be using a proprietary and Patented storage format that probably not be able to read.

      That version of Office is the one that triggered this action, not the current one.
    • There's more to free than being able to open a document using one tool

      You're thinking about this all wrong.

      Word access isn't free. If the developers of could have back all the time they've spent being able to read and write Microsoft's undocumented formats so that they could use it developing other features in we wouldn't be having a conversation about how Office might be better than

      And just because you can open Word documents in doesn't make the format accessible. What if I want to read the files using a script to place content in a website. Or what if I want to be able to data-mine the content for an intra-office search tool. The binary file formats MS Office use make this almost impossibe in a non-windows environment, but these are legitimate uses for office file formats.

      OpenDocument's XML base and it's free, openly published format make accessing documents, both for purposes of reading and writing far simpler, and therefor far more capable. Microsoft's XML file formats, one the other hand, are hardly XML. Word is the only format that seems to be mostly XML, with Excel using an XML wrapper for binary content and PowerPoint isn't even this good.

      The Microsoft XML format is also bound in a license that limits access to the format from open source software (arguably Microsoft's biggest competition).

      Finally, try suggesting changes to the file format that Microsoft offer. Go on. Give them a call and convince them that they should do something useful with their format. They won't even listen to you. With the OpenDocument format you can actively contribute to the development of the format. You've better be pretty smart though, because a lot of very smart people have contributed to what is a great file format and they don't just listen to anyone, unless their suggesting IS good. But at least they will listen, and you have a chance to convince them.

      This all adds up to a file format from Microsoft that's hardly free. And a very free alternative.
      • Free software isn't the answer

        Free doesn't pay salaries. Free doesn't generate R & D dollars. Free doesn't generate tax revenue. Free does force corporate America to export jobs to other countries.

        If you are receiving OpenDocument files and BY CHOICE, you use Microsoft or WordPerfect, and any other commercially available products, you will have problems exchanging files. Problems equal reduced productivity and higher costs. How can this be in anyone's best interest?

        For all of you who think free is great, please send your life savings and all of your future paychecks to hurricane Katrina victims and see just how long you survive.
        • Yo! Beldar!!

          If you use something other than MS Word or WordPerfect and you choose to receive documents in MS .doc format might you then be *choosing* to have a problem rather than to solve one? And possibly blaming your document source for the inappropriateness of your selected tool by way of defending the bad decision?

          Why not choose to use something that works for the task you are doing? Because then there wouldn't be anything to complain about? Why not buy Star Office? Then you can have software that does what you need and you can pay for it too. Of course you can't pay "mass quantities" for it because it only costs $100 if you buy it at it's highest price point rather than cheating poor Sun by paying $70 for an academic license or getting a corporate version for $35. But you can give your money to a big corporation that offers what you need (even if what you *want* is to have a problem). On the plus side it will work on all your .doc files too, but maybe that's not a good solution for you.

          Don't use Solaris though. It's free.

          If you think being free is so bad why not move to some place where you won't be? Like New Hampshire? [Get it? Live Free or Die!]

          Free doesn't spend your tax dollars! Free doesn't bribe or pressure officials or authorities to kowtow to it's agenda! Free doesn't force vendors to comply with monopolistic contract terms or be frozen out of the market!

          Go back to Remulak! We don't need coneheaded Frenchmen complaining about how we run our country!

          And if you want to make money off of the public go sell water and food to the hurricane victims, ya carpetbagger!
          Still Lynn
  • our data

    Of course *our* data should be in an open format -- and not locked up in a proprietary binary or patented XML format. It's *our* data, *not* Microsoft's, and we should *never* be beholden to them or their putative largesse for access to *our* data.