Open for Business

Monday, September 26, 2005

Microsoft vs. Mass - Episode II

As a follow up to my previous blog entry I thought I would share with you another episode of the Microsoft vs. OpenDocument fight. After the state of Massachusetts' final decision to kick Microsoft out of roughly 50,000 desktop PCs, Alan Yates General Manager with Microsoft wrote a letter to Eric Kriss (Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance) and Peter Quinn CIO of the state (and copied the state governor) to ask them to reconsider their choice claiming that they needed to do more research and that StarOffice, and KOffice were all one code base therefore not giving them as much choice as they thought they would get and questioning the validity of OpenDocument as a "standard". He also mentioned all the efforts being made by Microsoft to inject XML (read: a proprietary flavor of XML that cannot be exchanged with any non-Microsoft product except maybe some partners like SAP via Mendocino), etc.

The KOffice team replied on the popular Slashdot. I recommend reading Alan Yates' letter as well as the KOffice team response. But this clearly shows that even if Mass is far from being Microsoft's only Windows/Office customer they don't want to see this happen all over the planet as more government bodies in the US and elsewhere are showing serious interest in OpenDocument and industry standards as a way to increase their choice and maintain their
sovereignty. They rightfully feel that proprietary technologies are at odds with sovereignty.

My opinion is very much the same as what Massachusetts state officials explained, they have no problem with companies maintaining their intellectual property and selling software products like Microsoft Office, the real problem is the output (documents produced) by that software need to allow for easy exchange/interoperability and there is no better way to accomplish that than sticking with industry standards. Mass officials were pretty clear with what they meant by standards:

  • It must have no or absolutely minimal legal restrictions attached to it
  • It must be published and subject to peer review
  • It must be subject to joint stewardship

First Microsoft needs to drop its patents on the file formats, publish more openly the standard so it's publicly available for peer review, and make current and future versions subject to joint stewardship, after all this is done Mass officials promised they would reconsider Microsoft as a potential solution provider. That sounds perfectly fair to me!

As a result of this Mass vs. Microsoft healthy debate, Microsoft apparently stepped on its pride by making the license to the Office file formats perpetual and royalty-free. The state of Mass announced that the licensing decision by Microsoft is great but there are other sticking points such as future costs such as upgrading costs. The next version of Office will most likely not run on Windows 2K and they'll have to upgrade a ton of operating systems to XP (the state has ~ 80K employees)… This might be the beginning of the end of the unquestioned dominance of the Win/Office pair, may competition begin! Mass is saying there’s got to be a better way.