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Massachusetts vs. Microsoft

© October 2005 Tony Lawrence

It's official: after 2006, Massachusetts isn't going to use Microsoft file formats any more.

At the moment, Microsoft says they aren't going to change their software to be able to produce open formats, so by inexorable logic, Massachusetts won't be using Microsoft Office either.

This has caused a flurry of outrage from the usual Gates fans, calling this a "dumb move" and so on. That neglects the real problem, which is and always has been Microsoft. My home state is quite correct: public documents shouldn't be stored in proprietary formats. That's simple, obvious, and really has no argument against it: these are public files, and there should be no requirement to use proprietary software to access them. Arguments that there are "readers" for Microsoft formats are fallacious and misleading: the readers often misrepresent the actual formatting and are never guaranteed to work with future Microsoft formats. Microsoft formats are always secret, so readers can't be relied upon, and it's even possible that at some point it could be illegal to reverse engineer the formats to produce a reader. Open documents are the only answer.

So what to do about Microsoft's stubbornness? Again, wrong question. The better question is what to do about the states that DON"T require open document formats. Get enough states to understand the real obligation they have to eschew proprietary documents, and Microsoft will either have to toe the line or become completely irrelevant.

Therefore, I say to Microsoft: Hold your ground, boys. Don't let us wacko liberals on the East Coast interfere with your destiny. Never embrace open formats; hold fast against the tide and die with your chin held high. Ignominious irrelevance is nothing but what you deserve.

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Wed Oct 12 09:56:23 2005: 1185   Michael

I couldn't agree more.

The last paragraph is very funny, too. However, I don't know which particular political faction controls the state of Massachusetts, but personally I would have avoided sticking a political label on this one. After all, there is nothing in the liberal ideology that lays down what formats should be used for computer documents, liberalism being a belief in small government (together with an oudated and erroneous opinion that philosophical theory could be used to deliver precise limits to governmental power). The danger is that one alienates non-technical people who haven't grasped the arguments but who assume that some political stance is implied if it's pointed to and who don't share the enthusiasm for that stance. Goodness knows what "liberal" implies for some people.

We need to keep making the point that whether someone can read or write these documents depends on whether he has software from one particular company and that this need not be the case. Governmental bodies really have no business taking the easy option and using closed formats just because they are currently widely used. This is because their documents are ones that that anyone and everyone potentially needs to access, and because they are paid for out of taxes levied on everyone.

For the same reason, I think public bodies should be cut little or no slack on web accessibility issues. Private individuals and groups may want to do all kinds of interesting and unusual things with websites and it may make those sites difficult for some people to use. There will be, and should be, limits to that under legislation in some countries where a site is offering services to the public; but no court is, rightly, going to push that beyond the bounds of what's reasonable. It's a different matter with governmental organizations, because people need to, rather than choose to, use those sites and because it's their money that's paying for it all.

Wed Oct 12 10:03:27 2005: 1186   TonyLawrence

I consider myself a liberal with regard to freedom and social issues, and a conservative when it comes to money. There's some conflict there :-)

Massachusetts as a state is probably similar: we elect Democratic reps and Republican governors more often than not.

"Liberal" has become a dirty word to the right, but "Conservative" has for the left too (perhaps a little less so).

But never mind all that: liberal or conservative, government should be embracing open formats.

Wed Oct 12 12:10:08 2005: 1189   drag

Most people would considure me very conservative about lots of things.

However I try to think for myself and figure freedom has a priority over most things.(within reason, of course. No sense in getting all anarchic right now.) It's one of those things that have truly long-lasting benifits and improves many aspects of life and even business. (see: Apache web server)

There is absolutely no reason why Microsoft can't support open formats. It's all well documented, sample code exists, and I am sure that somebody would be happy to provide BSD-licensed stuff for them to use just like they did with their TCP/IP stack and Unix for windows stuff.

It just proves that they are pigheaded, don't want to play well for others, and more then likely see their propriatory formats as a method of lock-in for their customers.

Undoubtedly document format compatability issues form a large amount of the cost of conversions from MS Office to any other office suite. It's one of the major reasons for many people that moving more and more to Linux isn't as cost effective as it should be.

What I expect though is that somebody will come along and write a good document conversion utility for dealing with going from MS Office to everybody else on the freaking planet.

BTW. Check out Koffice's website. They released a new version lately with improved support for the open docuement formats. It's great for people that considure Openoffice.org slow or they just want a change. A new addition to koffice suite is a painting program called krita, which I think is very cool.

In terms of features, document compatability, and variety of applications it blows MS Office out of the water.

Wed Oct 12 13:55:43 2005: 1191   BigDumbDinosaur

There's nothing liberal or conservative about this issue. All that matters is that public records be electronically stored in a way that assures the broadest possible accessibility to the general public.

Fri Oct 14 15:28:45 2005: 1203   anonymous

Further to this discussion, please see this article:


"Several of the letters, published Wednesday on FoxNews.com, accuse
Microsoft of trying to promote its own interests by presenting
Prendergast, writing for a Microsoft-linked organization, as an
unbiased observer. This practice is known as "astroturfing,"
defined as a formal public relations campaign that tries to mask
itself as a spontaneous, grassroots reaction to an event or opinion."

I never knew this business of "analytical" comment by PR agencies was
called "astroturfing". It seems to be a familiar Microsoft tactic:


Fri Oct 14 16:27:45 2005: 1204   TonyLawrence

And what are we going to call what I saw Bush doing with those troops this morning?

Of course he probably has no choice. Nowadays you'd have to be crazy to do something like that unscripted, but I really don't like being fed fiction by our President. Better to just not do anything: if you are afraid that you'll get questions and responses you don't like, then don't do it. Making up a pretend situation (and getting caught at it) doesn't help anyone. Whether you are for him or against him (I'm against), it's a very dangerous game to play. Makes us look even worse to the rest of the world, makes people like me dislike him even more.

Same thing with Microsoft, of course. I already dislike them, but seeing them get caught in lies just adds to it. Stupid, stupid, stupid.


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