So, what's Microsoft's next move in Massachusetts?

No citizen or government agency should be compelled to buy any vendor's products in order to have access to public records.

In John Carroll's article, Democracy and standards, he quibbles with David Berlind's statement:

Not only has Massachusetts developed a modern and virtually unassailable test (particularly for its requirements since virtually every part of the test can be connected to the state's need for sovereignty), it has fully leveraged the democratizing forces of government and technology to arrive at an informed decision that serves the best interests of its public.

While I agree with John that no one should be surprised that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts received a "firestorm of commentary" regarding their initial decision to include Microsoft as an "open" standard, nor should any of us be surprised that Microsoft's competitors spoke in favor of ODF over Microsoft's formats, I think that he's missing the point. I too would have to disagree with the notion that Microsoft's being displaced from the MA ETRM had anything to do with democracy -- or sovereignty for that matter.

The point is that no citizen (or government agency) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should be compelled to buy any Microsoft product (or products from any other single vendor) in order to have access to public records. Period.

It doesn't matter why Microsoft was left off the list -- or even whether or not they were treated fairly. The fact is that they WERE left off the list. Why in the world they didn't see the writing on the wall and send Bill Gates (or the more likeable Steve Ballmer) to Massachusetts rather than Mr. Yates, who clearly was in no position to change the collective Microsoft mind, is beyond me.

The question in my mind isn't why they were left off. I don't really much care. What I want to know is what is Microsoft going to do about it? They have several choices. Among them, they could:

  • ignore the entire situation and assume that Massachusetts will continue to purchase (if not use) Microsoft's products despite the MA ETRM -- and that the same will go for its contractors.
  • decide to sue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the basis of unfair treatment during the selection process. (This action could take years to resolve -- and comes at a pretty high price. Win or lose, Microsoft does not need more detractors.)
  • adopt the approach long used by Adobe (which permitted PDF to stay on the list) -- that of offering free cross-platform document readers.
  • add read/write support for ODF in Office 2003 and include it in the next release of their Office suite. This seems like the simplest "no harm, no foul" solution to me -- after all, they still support TXT, RTF, & CSV formats in their Office suite -- and these are clearly formats which are badly outdated and inferior to most modern document formats. What's one more "inferior" file format?
  • publish their formats -- or otherwise open their licenses to development and transfer without royalty payments. Microsoft is so protective of its intellectual property rights that the likelihood of this ever happening must be vanishingly small.

In the end, some of these choices would make Microsoft 'look better' in the public eye than others -- although most of Microsoft's critics will never look favorably upon them -- no matter how benevolent Microsoft might appear.

Most of the rest of us will keep buying Microsoft products regardless of the grumbling we might do over a lack of "acceptable" (less expensive?) alternatives.

However, if the decision to preclude Microsoft from the MA ETRM stands, the opportunity for others to encroach on Microsoft's market share will grow larger. As other governments are emboldened to look for ways to mitigate the high cost of upgrading software and hardware, Microsoft may find themselves left out of many opportunities to compete -- and slowly but surely, Microsoft customers may be compelled to look for alternatives which meet the needs of their governmental business partners.