Microsoft lashes out at Massachusetts

Microsoft lashes out at Massachusetts

Summary: Last week Massachusetts released proposed policies to standardize state documents on the Open Document standard used by open source programs like Open Office. The policy, which is open for public comment until Sept. 9, would essentially forbid the use of Microsoft Office applications that don't support that format. Microsoft has already said the next version of Office won't support that format, and Friday Microsoft executives lashed out at the state.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Last week Massachusetts released proposed policies to standardize state documents on the Open Document standard used by open source programs like Open Office. The policy, which is open for public comment until Sept. 9, would essentially forbid the use of Microsoft Office applications that don't support that format. Microsoft has already said the  next version of Office won't support that format, and Friday Microsoft executives lashed out at the state, Computer Reseller News reports.

Alan Yates, GM of Microsoft's Information Worker Business Strategy, called Open Document an inferior file format, incompatible with older versions of Office, and said Office 12 would support XML but not Open Document. "This proposal acknowledges that Open Document does not address pictures, audio, video, charts, maps, voice, voice-over-IP, and other kinds of data our customers are increasingly putting in documents and archiving."

He addded, "As we look to the future, and all of these data types become increasingly intertwined, locked-in formats like OpenDocument are not well suited to address these varying data types - as the proposed policy itself acknowledges. It's this need for choice and flexibility that led Microsoft to design Office in a way that supports any XML schemas that a customer chooses, a capability lacking in less functional formats."

Here's the situation from the state's point of view, according to Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

  • Open Document is the best format to ensure openness of data. The state is concerned that Microsoft's XML schemas are proprietary and that patent issues could  create problems.
  • Regardless of the technical merits of Microsoft's new formats, the state is not interested in proprietary formats. "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. "We want OpenDocument, not Microsoft's XML standards. If Microsoft can make Office save and manipulate the OpenDocument XML standard, it would make their product more competitive for our use."
  • While the move to free software could mean substantial cost savings, the issue is not money but openness.
  • The migration is not burdensome to taxpayers and is something the state's IT departments know how to do.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Microsoft lashes out at revenue loss.

    I think that Microsoft needs to get a clue. I have
    Office 98 running on our office computer and
    Access 98 can not read Access 2000 documents.
    The changed the format. This requires a $400 plus
    upgrade. Do you suppose the compatibility issue
    was just an accident? Massachusetts has the right
    idea.
    DennisM_z
    • Access File Formats

      First of all, I assume that you are referring to Office 97, since Office 98 was only produced on the Macintosh, though I suppose that could be further exacerbating your file conversion issues. ;)

      Actually, that wasn't a case of Microsoft doing something just to force you to upgrade, so much as finally addressing a technical insufficiency of Access 97 and earlier. Specifically, Access 97 and earlier stored data in plain ASCII (single-byte), while Access 2000 and later stored it in Unicode (double-byte), which is necessary for dealing with applications on a global scale, since Unicode allows for international character sets. This is a change that was long overdue. Given this, while going from ASCII to Unicode (one byte -> two bytes) is a piece of cake, going the other way (two bytes -> one byte) is a dicey proposition at best, and usually results in data corruption.

      I'm sure that the sales and marketing folks shed few tears over the fact that data from Access 2000 cannot be migrated back to Access 97. However, I doubt that was something they did solely to make you have to fork over money for an upgrade. If anything, it made their jobs more difficult, as I know quite a few companies that delayed moving off of their old versions of Office due to the change in file format in Access. Note that, if forcing people to migrate by changing the file format had been their primary intention, they would have surely done the same with Word 2000 and Excel 2000, but those file formats are still readable in their Office 97 counterparts. Mostly, anyway, since you can lose some file formatting features, but that's a whole different ball of wax there.

      That said . . .

      What I DO find amusing in this article, is Microsoft touting themselves as a bastion for "choice", as if they are crusaders for truth, justice, and not enough beer, and everyone else is trying to lock them into a proprietary format . . . as they try to force users to accept their own, proprietary version of XML. Now THAT is Microsoft being up to its old tricks again.
      Whyaylooh
  • Too bad

    If MS doesn't want to support what this particular consumer (the Commonwealth of Massachussetts) wants to do, they are free not to, but they shouldn't be offended if the consumer then decides not to buy the product. Individual citizens of Massachussetts (together with businesses and local governments) are, of course, free to make their own decisions.

    MS and their supporters seem to have trouble with this concept, but *nobody* is morally obligated to do business with them. There are people who are resigned to it because they think that avoiding MS is more trouble than it's worth (MS has long been accused of trying to maximize the number of such persons), but that's really a different discussion.
    John L. Ries
  • Microsoft lashes out at Massachusetts

    While I am not a strong proponent of any form of monopoly I believe Microsoft has a valid point against Open Source. Most people, myself included, like Microsoft products just as they are. I am no longer in business but at one time was very involved in the imbedding schemas available with Office suites. I say to the government "Leave well enough alone". Thank you.
    JRice
    • Leaving well enough alone

      What does that mean in terms of a state government establishing its own internal procedures (specifically, standard file formats)? How does this differ from a private business doing the same thing?

      It's not like Mass. is proposing to tell its citizens what software or file formats to use.
      John L. Ries
      • Absolutely right

        All MA is saying is that it will not FORCE anybody to use MS software (which would be the case if MS proprietary format were the standard). MS chooses not to support an open format.

        Simply put, the MS strategy of taking over the market completely by imposing proprietary formats and forbidding or making it hard for anybody else to use them backfired this time.
        tonkica
  • Lacking features

    I think it's great that there is an open standard for electronic documents such as OpenDocument. And since everything seems to be going XML these days, I think it's great that both OpenDocument and Microsoft are supporting XML. However, I'm worried about this statement -

    "This proposal acknowledges that Open Document does not address pictures, audio, video, charts, maps, voice, voice-over-IP, and other kinds of data our customers are increasingly putting in documents and archiving."

    Does it really not support video, audio, charts, maps, etc. ? That can't be good. I would really like if an open standard became the standard, but not if it means using an inferior format.
    fabricio
  • Life without Microsoft

    ...after a few years of OpenOffice, somebody will wonder if there even might be other operating systems...
    vandamme
  • Not ready for Prime time

    As a vendor to MA, and a recipient of OpenOffice docs now, I'm appauled the MA would select a standard that isn't ready for prime time. I can also confirm that being forced to receive Open Office Docs for well over a year now has caused our company thousands of untold hours because of it's short comings. We use Word, Excel, and other Microsoft products by choice.

    MA needs to bury their MS ax and invest time and money into contributing and encouraging standards developers to get the standards they want to use ready for prime time.

    The biased public comments from MA IT management are also very troubling. It appears that it's more important for them to make anti-MS decisions than to provide MA staff with the best products for their work.

    IT professionals can't expect companies to invest in R&D, or to be incented to hire Americans at decent wages when they insist on open source. IT professionals who deplore any companies attempt to protect their IP and to make a profit are only promoting the destruction of their careers.
    mass_vendor
  • Improving support

    Open source will be adding to what is included in their file formats over time, and may even eclipse and go beyond MS in that area. There are thousands of programers in hundreds of companies that are supporting OS and they are far more inventive than a group of programmers who must fit what they do into a closed environment that is dictated from above.

    Also, anything added into OS is hashed out between those programers, companies, and their clients before it becomes part of the standard. Does MS allow any customers other than 5K+++ customers to have any say in the next version's improvements?

    And, how many software packages can you buy that will open, read, modify, and write, MS Office file formats to 100% compatability?

    OS formats generally have dozens that keep you from being stuck with mandatory methods that don't work the way you want them to work. And, even as a single copy user, you can request changes and often have them implemented. Ever ask MS to make a change? Still waiting for the request from years ago and finding the new version is even worse?

    An example of this is the vast numbers of companies that still use Win 2K and refuse to upgrade to any version of XP -- to much crap that is irrelevant to business purposes!
    johnlb2002