Legal worries led Massachusetts to open standards

Legal worries led Massachusetts to open standards

Summary: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts says legal worries helped drive it to open standards, but Microsoft has lambasted the move


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has cited legal concerns over Microsoft's software as a factor behind its decision to only use document formats based on open standards.

Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, told CRN on Friday that Massachusetts had concerns about the openness of Microsoft XML schemas as well as with potential patent issues that could arise in the 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 added.

Kriss could not immediately be contacted for further comment, but it is clear that Massachusetts has long-standing concerns over Microsoft's XML schema. Earlier this year, in a document describing its work on open standards, the Commonwealth said that "the Microsoft "Patent License" for use of Office schemas has not been accepted as satisfactory by all parties, even if it eventually proves to satisfy the requirements of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. To some, the exceptions to the 'royalty-free license ... to make, use, sell, offer to sell, import, and otherwise distribute Licensed Implementations solely for the purpose of reading and writing files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas' are problematic, as are the terms of use," said the Commonwealth.

In the past, the issue of patent infringement has been used by Microsoft as a criticism against open source. Speaking in Microsoft's Asian Government Leaders Forum in Singapore in November 2004, Ballmer reiterated a controversial claim that Linux violates more than 228 patents.

"Someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO [World Trade Organisation], somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property," Ballmer reportedly said.

Microsoft lashed out against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts last week for its proposed plan to support only OpenDocument and PDF file formats for use by state employees in the future.

The state described the plan in a posting made to its Web site last week as part of a public review process which ends on 9 September. Massachusetts agencies have until 1 January, 2007, to install applications that support the OpenDocument file formats and phase out other products.

Alan Yates, Microsoft's general manager of Information Worker business strategy, criticised the Massachusetts proposal, saying it was "confusing". It uses different criteria for openness for office documents, data and Adobe PDF files, he told ZDNet UK's sister site CNET last Thursday.

"We were surprised by the narrowing of the approach to openness," Yates said. "There are many other different options that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has here that many other countries and states are doing."

Yates reiterated the Microsoft does not intend to natively support the OpenDocument format, which he said was very specific to the 2.0 open source productivity suite.

Microsoft has since confirmed this view.

A Microsoft executive said last week, after the report was released, that Microsoft will not support OpenDocument in its next version of Office 12 as it believed the format to be inferior and said is not compatible with older versions of Office, according to InformationWeek.

Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft's Information Worker Business Strategy, told CRN last Friday that Office 12 would not support OpenDocument because "the Office 12 formats pay special attention to compatibility with older document versions, [and] other formats do not concern themselves with this important issue."

CNET's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Ofcourse Microsoft will have to do an all out assault against Massachusetts now because they simply can't effort to not pollute Massachusetts findings and reasoning before it becomes common knowledge around the globe: yes, you can drop Microsoft products, still communicate with everybody, not come to a standstill and actually save a bundle (risk less) as well.

    Expect a whole barrage of "independant reports", "inside stories", "customer testomonies" and what not. The trick will be to seperate fact from fiction.
  • Let's hope they that Mass. doesn't have a lot of business logic in VBA. Otherwise, switching will cost far more than they've bargained for. Still, good luck to them; competition based on reality, not religion, is GOOD, even if they're just using this to secure a price cut from MS.
  • The MS license is not online. I've looked and looked, and found only fluff *about* the license, but not the critter itself. Tom, can you post a link from the article to the license. A lot of crap is coming out of Redmond these days and some of it could be eliminated if we could actually read the license ourselves.
  • Yates is incorrect. OpenDocument is supported by many suites. Since it is open and not encumbered by patents, even Microsoft -- a member of the OASIS technical committee for OpenDocument, no less -- could choose support it.

    Editors should not let such bait slide uncorrected.
  • In fact, many office packages support the format. OpenOffice/StarOffice, Koffice, and AbiWord are just 3. I am hoping that AmiPro and WP decide to support it. If so, they could possibly get back into the game.
  • Who do Microsoft think they are? If Pepsi went around threatening people who bought Cola or vice versa they'd just be laughed at.
  • Well I think that MS products are much better than anything in the Open Source options available. Besides, independent reports have proved that OS is more expensive than MS integrated suite.
  • /*
    Microsoft will not support OpenDocument in its next version of Office 12 as it believed the format to be inferior and said is not compatible with older versions of Office

    I'm missing something here -- how is this different from MSXML:

    1) You open an OpenDocument file in MSOffice 2000, what happens?
    2) You open an MSXML file in MSOffice 2000, what happens?

    Looks to me like the answer's the same.
  • Re: "If Pepsi went around threatening people who bought Cola or vice versa they'd just be laughed at."

    Pepsi/Coca-Cola *do* carry out this kind of activity. The branded fridges in shops are owned by the companies and given to the shops for free. The proviso is that they do not stock products from the other companies in them. Heaven help you if they find you breaking this agreement.
  • Patent problems? OK Mr. Ballmer, how many patents does Windows infringe, let's hear a number.

    There's several ongoing suits right now.
  • Microsoft made the decision themselves. They decided that they'd rather face the consequences of disgruntled customers than license their Office formats in a non-discrimatory fashion. They said sure, we'll license this on a non-royalty basis, unless your software is open source. They were willing to lose Massachusetts to "gain" non-interoperability. It's not even that they wouldn't support OpenDocument. They didn't have to when this all started. All they had to do was make their already-published formats open source compatible. Having to support OpenDocument or else lose a government customer is the direct consequence of their failure to do so.
  • (a) Microsoft's MSXML format won't open in Office 2000; forced upgrade path?

    (b) Microsoft is (was?) a member of the OpenDocument committee; are they saying they deliberately created a sub-standard spec? Or that they're too good to support the spec they helped write?

    For Microsoft, it's all about lock-in; points to Mass. for calling their bluff.
  • Where was Microsoft's concern for backward compatibility before? At least one version of Office made files that once you loaded ones from an earlier version in and saved them, even if you changed nothing, the file could no longer be read by a prior edition.

    One thing about Word Perfect was, all of their file formats were downward compatible as long as you didn't use a feature implemented later. If you did, and you tried to open the document in an earlier version of WP, the functionality provided by that feature would simply be ignored and the document would still load.

    Why does Microsoft suddenly have this concern about backward compatibility of other formats when it never had it for its own? Sounds like the hypocritical comments of a company that is scared to death of people being able to break the chains of vendor lock-in.
  • It doesn't amaze me that Microsoft will be doing as much as it can to ensure that government agencies and companies stick with some iteration of Microsoft Office. Office has been Microsoft's biggest cash cow and anything that jeopardizes that income is a serious threat.

    I do really applaud the Massachusetts for not going with a closed format. As we have seen with the Microsoft Word .doc format, lots of companies have been totally locked in for perceived compatibility issues. But as we all know, the .doc format differs from each version of Word and they are not truly backwards compatible.
  • What I find funny, is that OOo 2.0 beta 2 supports MS XML (on top of 'original' MSO 97/XP formats) - it might be patchy, long to load/save, but it does seem to work with MSO 2003 XML formats; since OOo exploits all of OASIS XML document formats (they are, after all, based on the former OOo formats), it looks like interoperability problems between MS XML and ODF XML isn't something that can be overcome. So, how comes a community is able to do so, while a multibillion dollars company can't? It means, in short, that you can't measure a software company's worth through its accumulated cash.
    However, fact is OOo 2.0 will support all commonly encountered formats in whole or in part, while MSO 12 won't - at all.
  • LIES AND FUD from Yates:

    (1) As "a.c." points out, the K-Office Suite (current release 1.4.1, and all future releases) supports the Oasis OpenDocument format. Like, this is a complete Suite, including presentation, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing components. Yates' claim that the OpenDocument is "specific to the Suite" is a BALD-FACED LIE, and the ZDNet author should have pointed this out in the article.

    (2) Yates claims that other "document formats" (by which he really means THE PROGRAMS, but he's trying to confuse everyone) don't "concern themselves" with maintaining compatibility with older 'Microsoft Office' document formats. But the simple fact of the matter is: They can't do a perfect job because they all have to reverse-engineer Microsoft's formats, which are hidden behind proprietary licenses, unavailable documentation, and attempted Patents.

    His "solution" for this problem, caused ENTIRELY by Microsoft's hiding of it's existing formats, is for Massachusetts to become even further locked-in by moving to Office-12 ??? Of course he resorts to FUD, saying things like "there are many different options", or it's "confusing", because he needs to obscure the problem.

    He lies again when claiming that different criteria are being used for "Office Documents" versus "Adobe PDF files". Adobe has provided *full* documentation of the pdf format, allowing other people to create numerous programs which can view them (xpdf, etc.) and even write them (, etc.).

    The problem is MICROSOFT'S refusal to document it's data formats for unrestricted use (without "licensing" restrictions, or the threat of "patents"). Adobe PDF formats and OASIS OpenDocument formats are free for anybody to use, without restriction... and in fact, multiple choices exist for reading and writing documents in these formats.

    Mr. Espiner should not let these lies go unchallenged.
  • What a bunch of bull! Not supporting the OpenDocument format because of backward compatability?? If they were really concerned about compatibility, they could warn the user that there would be a format loss (which they do for any other export they already have), then do it anyway.
    The only reason to not support it is monopolistic business practices. They don't really think anybody buys this crap, do they?
  • Re Re: "If Pepsi went around threatening people who bought Cola...

    The agreements on the fridges are limited to that fridge only. The shop can put a Pepsi fridge alongside if it wants to. Microsoft's original limiting agreements with computer stores applied to the store as a whole. That behaviour has since been deemed illegal.

    This isn't about the fridges though. What Microsoft are doing here would be like Pepsi threatinging the people that go into the shops, or in this case more the people buying a few cases of Cola for a party they're having.
  • I'm sick of Microsoft whining that the OpenDocument format isn't good enough. Good enough for what. It's good enough for OpenOffice, for Boeing, for Corel, for IBM, for SUN, for the Australian Archives.

    Fact is that Microsoft had every opportunity to contribute to the OpenDocument format to make sure that it was "Good Enough (TM)" but instead they were the only member of OASIS that didn't participate. That's right, every member of OASIS except for Microsoft thinks the OpenDocument format was good enough.

    (While were on contributions to file formats, when was the last time a company, individual, organization or goverment body contributed to the MS Office file format in such and open and documented way?)

    It also looks like OpenDocument will be "Good Enough (TM)" for the International Standards Organization (ISO). Microsoft tried submitting their file format for ISO approval, but ISO rejected it saying Microsoft would need to change a lot before they would even consider it.

    I can't wait for ISO to approve the OpenDocument format as "Good Enough (TM)" Then my government won't have any excuse not to follow in Massachusetts footsteps and choose a file format that doesn't cost me a pretty penny to exchange files with them.
  • The comments from Microsoft don't hold water.
    In what way do you embed "Voice over IP" in a document?
    That makes no sense.
    Pretending that external files must be somehow crammed
    into the document instead of sitting alongside it, with a reference to the document (hyperlink), makes the document format far more flexible than what they're proposing. Zip the files up into a single package if you want.
    Not to mention that OpenOffice can read Microsoft's XML format.
    The last thing on earth Microsoft want is to lose the lock-in they have on their Office customers as a result of document compatibility. This is all about trying to lock all their customers in to use Office and only office, forever.