decoration decoration
Stories

GROKLAW
When you want to know more...
decoration
For layout only
Home
Archives
Site Map
Search
About Groklaw
Awards
Legal Research
Timelines
ApplevSamsung
ApplevSamsung p.2
ArchiveExplorer
Autozone
Bilski
Cases
Cast: Lawyers
Comes v. MS
Contracts/Documents
Courts
DRM
Gordon v MS
GPL
Grokdoc
HTML How To
IPI v RH
IV v. Google
Legal Docs
Lodsys
MS Litigations
MSvB&N
News Picks
Novell v. MS
Novell-MS Deal
ODF/OOXML
OOXML Appeals
OraclevGoogle
Patents
ProjectMonterey
Psystar
Quote Database
Red Hat v SCO
Salus Book
SCEA v Hotz
SCO Appeals
SCO Bankruptcy
SCO Financials
SCO Overview
SCO v IBM
SCO v Novell
SCO:Soup2Nuts
SCOsource
Sean Daly
Software Patents
Switch to Linux
Transcripts
Unix Books
Your contributions keep Groklaw going.
To donate to Groklaw 2.0:

Groklaw Gear

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


Contact PJ

Click here to email PJ. You won't find me on Facebook Donate Paypal


User Functions

Username:

Password:

Don't have an account yet? Sign up as a New User

No Legal Advice

The information on Groklaw is not intended to constitute legal advice. While Mark is a lawyer and he has asked other lawyers and law students to contribute articles, all of these articles are offered to help educate, not to provide specific legal advice. They are not your lawyers.

Here's Groklaw's comments policy.


What's New

STORIES
No new stories

COMMENTS last 48 hrs
No new comments


Sponsors

Hosting:
hosted by ibiblio

On servers donated to ibiblio by AMD.

Webmaster
MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments
Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:04 PM EDT

This is a bit of a miracle.

The State of Massachusetts is backing OpenDocument v. 1.0 as the standard for office applications, text documents, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents like drawings and presentations, and all agencies are expected to migrate by January 1, 2007.

Here is the new version [PDF] of their Enterprise Technical Reference Model. As they themselves acknowledge, "Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable."

Considerable, yes, but if your goal is interoperability, both necessary and worth the effort, as anyone who has ever tried to interoperate in WordPerfect with someone working in MS Office can testify. They also say when formatting doesn't matter, documents created in proprietary formats can be saved as plain text -- think email, for example -- and for documents that will primarily be accessed by a web browser through the Internet or an intranet, HTML is preferred. By HTML, they mean standard HTML, as in HTML v. 4.01. PDF is also acceptable for documents that will not be further modified, and the standard there is PDF Reference v. 1.5 that supports XML functionality.

If you wish to review where this story began, back in January, Massachusetts announced its Open Format policy (announcement transcript here), and in March many at Groklaw responded to the request for input from the public on the Commonwealth's Enterprise Technical Reference Model. We had issues. A lot of other groups had issues too. Massachusetts listened. They met with industry and other groups' representatives. You can see a list of those asked to give input at one meeting. Then they went back to the drawing board and came up with this new version. They are asking for comments once again.

Here's mine: hubba hubba.

I will use Information Technology Division CIO Peter Quinn's comments linked from the ITD home page to describe the changes to this new version:

"After receiving comments from the public regarding our proposed Open Formats standards earlier this year we have had a series of discussions with industry representatives and experts about our future direction. These discussions have centered on open formats particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative "openness" of the format options available to us.

This new draft version of the Data Formats section of our Enterprise Technical Reference Model (beginning on page 16) identifies the newly ratified OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) as our standard for office documents. Additional open and acceptable formats are also identified for other types of documents. We are once again asking for your feedback and comments before finalizing the standards document. Thanks in advance for your input."

The bottom line is, they did listen to input. They really did. Their guidelines now are to "stay with open standards". For example, in the section on XML, they say, "To insure maximum interoperability, it is recommended that proprietary extensions to any XML specifications be avoided."

Here's the standards and specifications wording on XML:

Standards and Specifications

* XML v. 1.0: XML 1.0 has been fully ratified by the W3C, and is included in the WS-Interoperability Basic Profile 1.0. XML 1.0 can be validated against the formal definition of the protocol specification.

Refer to: http://www.w3.org/xml

Here are some highlights from the materials on office documents, beginning on page 17 of the PDF:

Guidelines -- The OpenDocument format must be used for office documents such as text documents (.odt), spreadsheets (.ods), and presentations (.odp). The OpenDocument format is currently supported by a variety of office applications including OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace.

Standards and Specifications --

* OpenDocument v.1.0 -- Defines an XML schema for office applications and its semantics. The schema is suitable for office documents, including text documents, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents like drawings and presentations, but is not restricted to these kinds of documents.

Refer to: http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev-office

Migration -- Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable. Agencies will need to develop phased migration plans with a target implementation date of January 1, 2007. In the interim, agencies may continue to use the office applications they have currently licensed. Any acquisition of new office applications must support the OpenDocument standard.

Agencies should begin to evaluate office applications that support the OpenDocument specification to migrate from applications that use proprietary document formats. As of January 1, 2007 all agencies within the Executive Department will be required to:

1. Use office applications that provide native conformance with the OpenDocument standard, and

2. Configure the applications to save office documents in OpenDocument format by default.

I am imagining law firms all over the place that have dealings with Massachusetts agencies suddenly asking, where do we get this OpenOffice.org of which you speak? (Answer. And here's KOffice. Or if you just must spend money, here's StarOffice and IBM Workplace.) So, what do you think? When we didn't much like what they were doing, we said so at length. If you appreciate the change, you may wish to let them know and say thank you.

The public review draft of the Information Domain - Enterprise Technical Reference Model v.3.5 is available for review through Friday, September 9, 2005. Comments can also be addressed to Standards@state.ma.us. Here's LinuxToday's coverage.


  


MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments | 278 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections
Authored by: IRJustman on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:06 PM EDT
Post 'em if ya got 'em!

--Ian.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic links and stuff
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:10 PM EDT
Please use the hints on the Post a Comment page (in red, just below the edit box).

---
--Bill P, not a lawyer. Question the answers, especially if I give some.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Please write to MA
Authored by: chris_bloke on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:15 PM EDT
Wonderful news!

As PJ says it would be well worth those who support this
writing to them to comment that you endorse this move and
that you welcome their stand on this important matter.

I'm going to do so even though I'm in not the US.

I have a strong interest in history & archaeology and
documentary sources are always important, having them
locked up in what are effectively self-locking containers
after only a few years does our inheritors a disservice.

Chris

[ Reply to This | # ]

MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments
Authored by: vruz on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:26 PM EDT
Kudos and cheers to everyone involved !!

--- the vruz

---
--- the vruz

[ Reply to This | # ]

Mental disconnect
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:50 PM EDT
"...where do we get OpenOffice.org...?"

[boggle]

A mental disconnect occurs
because people don't believe that it could be as easy as downloading, installing
and running, without cost, encumbrance, restrictive licensing or vendor lock-in.

[ Reply to This | # ]

This can be straightened out
Authored by: webster on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 11:14 PM EDT
They are going to have to get a legislative override of this action or at least
make them start over.

They could also license a special "Open" edition of Monopoly Office to
the State at a good rate if they don't acquire any other software. This would
encourage the law firms and corporations to buy it to insure state
compatibility.

They could also introduce a Mass Plug-in free with any bulk licensing of Office.
There's more than one way to wiggle a snake.

---
webster
>>>>>>> LN 3.0 >>>>>>>>>

[ Reply to This | # ]

OpenDoc Where to get Open Office for all OS'es
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 11:15 PM EDT
http://download.openoffice.org/ Click Here http://www.openoffice.org/ Click Here Installs on Windows 95 (one version 1.0.3.1) to Windows XP the latest version ( 2.0). Linux, all Unixes Suns included of course. http://www.openoffice.org/dev_docs/instructions.html Welcome to OpenOffice.org's Quick-Start Guide for Windows environments. Below you will find step-by-step instructions to install OpenOffice.org version 1.1 on your system. Before beginning installation, you may want to print this instruction sheet for reference while the setup program is executing. Installing OpenOffice.org on Linux is very easy! To make sure you get the best possible setup, simply follow these steps. # Debian GNU/Linux Apt-Gettable OpenOffice.org, plus pspfontcache hotfix! (You will have to search a little; Debian updated its website.) # Mandrake Linux # RedHat # SuSE From the down load site.

[ Reply to This | # ]

MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments
Authored by: Hygrocybe on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 11:25 PM EDT
While I am not a resident of the US, I applaud this decision and am celebrating
on behalf of the farsightedness of the Massachussetts team. The ramifications
of this move are enormous......because this is just the start. Open Office is
free, and it uses these standard file formats. Don't tell me that there won't
shortly be a US wide rush to get this piece of software onto every computer. And
there's more: We could see all web sites open to any standard browser; all files
routinely moveable from any wordprocessing program to another....the mind almost
boggles at the flow-ons for the betterment of computing and software that this
decision will generate. Proprietary formats..farewell.

Well done indeed.

---
Blackbutt, Australia

[ Reply to This | # ]

Do not celebrate yet - MS will not give up yet
Authored by: eamacnaghten on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 11:29 PM EDT
I guarantee you that MS will be lobbying Mas. with all it's might in order to get their proprietary formats accepted. It is too early to celebrate. I think further comments are required by the FOSS community, and others, to enforce the current decision to adopt open standards.

Web Sig: Eddy Currents

[ Reply to This | # ]

MA State Conclusions
Authored by: vruz on Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 11:54 PM EDT
"Use of either open source or proprietary software poses some legal risk to states. States face fewer risks in connection with the use of open source software compared to their private sector counterparts, and the risks that they do face can be managed."

www.mass.gov

---
--- the vruz

[ Reply to This | # ]

Theory vs practice
Authored by: dtfinch on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 12:00 AM EDT
As great as the OASIS formats are (I love being able to look at the XML), every
major office suite in the world has good support for the MS Office 2000 formats
(I don't trust 2003). People with older versions of OpenOffice will need to
upgrade again to use the OASIS formats.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How will OASIS patent stance (RAND) effect OpenDoc XML ?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 01:04 AM EDT
How does the OASIS's stance on patent (RAND) efect OpenDoc. Will we find that
after adoption OpenDoc, MS or SUN etc. brings out the patents.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Progress - Another step in a better direction.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 02:46 AM EDT
I have used many different word processing programs, some by choice and others
not, and have had to contend with incompatibility issues all along the way. The
documents belong to my employers or myself, yet the software companies prevent
me from allowing them to be viewed by those who may not have the word processor
(even among different versions of the same software) I used for a particular
document.

It may be unpleasant news for some, but if all word processing software used
standardized file formats all along, most people would have made the same choice
of proprietary software. It is due to mistreatment of their customers that
people began the quest for alternatives, giving rise to the explosive growth of
free and open source software.

The French nobility actually created the French Revolution, due to their own
arrogance and greed. You would think certain software firms would learn from
history.

[ Reply to This | # ]

I'm amazed
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 03:11 AM EDT
This is incredible. You realize they pretty much just kicked MS Office right
out of the state with this action. That's gotta hurt. MS will no doubt fight
back, sure, but this is a real slap in the face to them.

Something about it makes me think that it just might partially be in response to
some overly-heavy-handed lobbying by the Redmond crew. It's just a hunch
though.
----------

The poster formerly known as m(_ _)m

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • I'm amazed - Authored by: wood gnome on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 05:05 AM EDT
    • Huh? - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 05:42 AM EDT
      • Huh? - Authored by: wood gnome on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 06:01 AM EDT
      • Huh? - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 11:51 AM EDT
        • Huh? - Authored by: xtifr on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 05:05 PM EDT
        • Huh? - Authored by: Darigaaz on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 05:15 PM EDT
      • To be pedantic - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 12:42 PM EDT
  • I'm amazed - Authored by: DannyB on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 09:52 AM EDT
    • Yes, I know. - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 12:50 PM EDT
  • I'm amazed - Authored by: dtfinch on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 10:00 AM EDT
  • Not at all - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 02 2005 @ 07:22 PM EDT
But is OpenDoc any good ?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 04:20 AM EDT
I only act as "devils advocate" with this questio.

Only last weekend the comments of a Open Source developer who was complaining
that the standard was horrible; a long verbose document, difficult to read etc.
He noted that as soneone working on Spreadsheet applications he had given up and
returned to coding in Excel compatiblity as a way of ensuring interoperability.


As I an no expert in this field I thought I would mention this to ellicit some
replies.

(The article is in LinuxFormat or Linux User & Developer - I dont have them
to hand at work, so cant remember which).

Jed in UK (really most get round to getting a login.....)

[ Reply to This | # ]

MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 08:24 AM EDT
Isn't OASIS just a sheep costume shop for wolves?
IIRC OASIS is a standards organization for standards that rely on patented
technology. RAND licence terms still excludes open source.
How unreasonable must a license fee be not to classify as a RAND license? Isn't
it a bit like selling rubber bands in yards?

[ Reply to This | # ]

MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 08:25 AM EDT
I think a plug-in would be fine as long as it is shipped with the product - that
would still count as native to me. If you had to download the plug-in or get it
from a third party, then I think it would be no longer native. But Microsoft
would only need to create another filter (they already provide many) to deal
with this format - they wouldn't need a plug-in.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Good and proper choice from MA. However, it may not change which software is used in the short t
Authored by: belboz on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 08:36 AM EDT
Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats
I think that this decision will result in quick patches to Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect, so those products will support OpenDocument.
This will probably result in most state agencies keeping their current solution (at least for now), as a mirgation project would be extermly costly.

But since the decision opens up for other products, it is a big win for non-propetary software and for consumers in Massachusetts.
---
Henrik

[ Reply to This | # ]

What does it mean, you ask?
Authored by: joef on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 10:04 AM EDT
As in any specification, it means exactly what the specification document says
it means. If it is not well defined in that document, you will continue to ask
what it means. Then the courts can decide.

Please realize that what PJ's article cites is a "policy statement",
not a specification. So we must hope that the Commonwealth's specification
writers are very, very careful as they draft their specification. They must be
quite precise.

As an aside, I very much hope that the people who do that drafting will read the
Grokkers' comments and realize what sort of questions we have about the
interpretation of the official announcement cited by PJ.

[Not a lawyer, but I wrote lots of specifications that got included in US
Government contracts.]

[ Reply to This | # ]

A great Kick in the Teeth to MS
Authored by: enigma_foundry on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 01:34 PM EDT
What a great kick in the teeth to Microsoft--since they have elected not to
support open formats, their products are excluded--so now MS can either write
the ability to save in open formats into their programs or be excluded from MA
State governement market.

The first of many.

I suspect we will see a legal challene from MS--they can't afford to let this
one go by can they? On the other hand, if they sue they will look bad, again.

Not a good position for them to be in, to be sure...

---
enigma_foundry

[ Reply to This | # ]

WOW!!! What a Win!
Authored by: SilverWave on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 03:40 PM EDT

MS will be thinking:

Slippery Slope.

Thin Edge of a Wedge.

Between a Rock & a Hard Place.



***IF**** this makes it in to statute then its a whole world of pain for MS.

Incredibly brave decision.

***Honest Government*** Nice to see it in action.


---
"They [each] put in one hour of work,
but because they share the end results
they get nine hours... for free"

Firstmonday 98 interview with Linus Torvalds

[ Reply to This | # ]

OpenDocument was really the only choice that made sense
Authored by: dwheeler on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 05:30 PM EDT
Frankly, in many ways this decision was fairly obvious. OpenDocument appears, at this point, to be the way to go, with no realistic alternative. I think they ought to tweak their timetable into a set of stages, though. And this isn't a vote against Microsoft's Office products; it's a vote against Microsoft's new proprietary XML format (and choosing the international standard instead). Here's what I mean by all that...

First, background. Governments don't create office documents so that they can be tossed in the shredder. They often have to be accessible decades or centuries later, and many of them have to be accessible to any citizen, regardless of what equipment they use or will use.

So let's look at the kinds of issues Massachusetts finds itself confronted with. Here's what any government, including Massachusetts, would typically require in a modern office format:

  1. An XML-based format. Now that XML is available, governments want a single format that uses XML for its many advantages (e.g., easy standard processing, flexibility, easy growth to arbitrary sizes, ease of repair/recovery, and interoperability). Binary formats have real trouble with extensibility, for example; if they assign one byte to a value, and later discover that they need more than one byte, it's difficult to change anything, while in XML you just write the larger number. Repair is hard too; in XML, if some data is scrambled, you can recover the rest, but a scrambled binary file is often unrecoverable. Some XML format is wanted. In the long term, the choice is OpenDocument or Microsoft's XML format.
  2. A specification. In the long term, all formats disappear. WordStar was once what everyone used as their word processor; now, no one even has a filter to read the format. Luckily, WordStar format is similar to ASCII and is thus mostly recoverable. Today, I can't read some important PowerPoint 4 files in today's PowerPoint - unacceptable to me, and governments think in terms of decades and centuries. Yet it happens, because there's still no specification for the (now obsolete) Microsoft Office format. If there's no spec, there's no standard.
  3. Neutral specification maintainer, preferably a respected pre-existing standards body. OpenDocument has been developed and is maintained by a vendor-neutral body (OASIS); OASIS is even authorized to submit its specifications straight to ISO. Microsoft hasn't even begun a standards process for its format. At this point they're too late -- the standards train already left the station, and arrived at the destination called OpenDocument.
  4. Multi-vendor/customer development. The only way to make sure that all critical user needs and supplier issues are addressed is to get many different organizations to develop the specification and get public feedback. OpenDocument did that. Microsoft's XML format didn't; it was developed just by Microsoft.
  5. Multiple implementations. There are now multiple implementations of OpenDocument, with probably more to be announced soon. Governments don't want to be locked into a single vendor, nor to force their citizens to do so. The costs go sky-high, and support vanishes, when there's no competition. Only one vendor really supports the Microsoft XML format. Note that having multiple implementations is the best way to ensure that specification actually provides interoperability; the IETF even requires this for its standards because of this.
  6. Anyone can implement the specification. Anyone can implement OpenDocument. Today, there are too many people and too many programs that need access to the data in office documents. Thus, it's critical that anyone be able to implement an office format. That means it has to be implementable by proprietary programs and by open source software, using the licenses typicaly for each. And let's be blunt: the most common license for open source software is the GNU GPL version 2, so any office format must be implementable by a program released under the GNU GPL. Microsoft hasn't been willing to do that, so it's been unwilling to release a specification that's appropriate for government use. Instead, Microsoft has only been willing to release a specification as long as it can't be used by Microsoft's primary competition, by creating licensing clauses that prevent interoperationg and competition. The OpenDocument folks have not done that; Microsoft can implement OpenDocument without restriction. Microsoft's claim that OpenDocument is "unnecessarily exclusive" is nonsense; the shoe is on the other foot. I'd say this reason, by itself, is sufficient to disqualify Microsoft's XML format from any government consideration, no matter what its capabilities, because it fails to give users the option of choosing what program or system they can use.
  7. Free implementations with a method for providing perpetual updates are available. Some implementations are available at no cost and have a licensing structure that allows that to continue indefinitely. This greatly reduces transition costs by ensuring that competing implementations will be affordable. Even if you choose to use a non-free implementation (say StarOffice, or Microsoft Office with an OpenDocument plug-in), this is obviously a big advantage to you, because it constrains their prices. No such luck with Microsoft's XML format.
  8. Support is already available for this format. It's already out, and already getting used, so that lowers the risk. Microsoft's XML format still hasn't been fielded. OpenDocuments support is out, and based on formats that have been around for some time.

The story here seems clear. Microsoft gambled that, because most current office users use their Office program, customers would choose Microsoft's format even though Microsoft's format did not meet their requirements. Customers, instead, looked at the alternatives, found one that actually met their requirements, and chose that one instead.

Now Microsoft's in a minor bind. The world is already switching to OpenDocument, and now that all the other suppliers has invested in OpenDocument and have it working, there's really no real incentive to use an alternative. If Microsoft wanted to suddenly get their work standardized, I don't think they could; since it wasn't developed in a large multi-vendor community, it will probably take years to vet it and fix its problems (inevitable when you work in isolation), years it doesn't have because OpenDocument is already here. I doubt they'll even get much interest in the standards community; they already have a standard, there's no need to do work twice when there's no widespread interest. And that assumes Microsoft fixes its licensing problems, which is unlikely.

Microsoft can go ahead and use only Microsoft XML, but since nobody else can read it, and people are standardizing on OpenDocument instead, customers may find that they just don't want the latest version of Office.

But really, this needn't hurt Microsoft at all. Anyone can implement OpenDocument, so they can easily add filters to Microsoft Office. It's easy, but will they swallow their pride enough to make their customers happy? I hope so. Someone will do it; OpenOffice.org itself could be used as a filter, if nothing else. But I suspect if they added good filters to Office, a lot of people would buy it. On the other hand, if people end up having to use OpenOffice.org as a plug-in to use Microsoft Office, they may soon start asking why they need Microsoft Office.

Microsoft can choose to do what it likes. But customers want a completely open standard, and Microsoft has chosen to not meet their customers' requirements. If they continue to do so, then Microsoft should expect to lose its customers; that's how the market works. They can't claim ignorance to the desire for open standards; governments have been asking for them for decades.

At this time it appears that OpenDocument is the wisest and lowest-risk long-term decision, even though at first blush it seems surprising. The old Microsoft Office format is unspecified and will cause continuing data loss, while failing to take advantage of XML technology. Even Microsoft is abandoning it. Microsoft's XML format will prevent instead of help interoperability; it simply fails to meet typical government requirements, since its restrictive license prevents real competition and it failed to enter the standardization process. By announcing the goal early, governments like Massachusetts make it easier to achieve them, because that gives people time to plan that transition. It appears that many other governments (including European governments) are coming to the same conclusion, for all the same reasons.

But what about the timetable? I do have some concerns about MA's timetable. The January 1, 2007 deadline may be too difficult to completely meet at the level proposed. As noted in the document, there's a large deployed legacy base. They cannot stay indefinitely with the current tools, but it will be difficult to change them all with only a little more than a years' time. Office suite deployments are often rolled in slowly, over a period of years, even when the changes are minor -- because of the number of people involved.

The right solution is not to delay a decision, or "put off" transition efforts to a long indefinite future. That will continue the current problems, and it will not prepare Massachusetts for the future. Instead, I think they should identify multiple stages, with timetables, and a plan for achieving each stage. In particular, they should make sure that READERS are WIDESPREAD -- native or not -- before beginning to WRITE and DISTRIBUTE files in this format as a widespread norm.

Here is an example of stages:

  1. All new office suites acquired must support reading and writing this format, either "natively" or via a plug-in. Maybe require this even BEFORE January 1, 2007; certainly by mid-year 2006 this should be a feasible requirement. For example, they could install any new office suite along with a separate (possibly non-native) plug-in. If necessary, they could even split this further into two parts: being able to read (first), and later being able to both read and write.
  2. All writeable office documents provided the public via a website must include this format as one of the formats. Note that a webmaster might do this conversion instead of the original author. Again, this could probably be done by mid-year 2006 (or even earlier if they really pressed it.). This would gain visibility of the format.
  3. A simple method for installing plug-ins for common legacy office suites has been selected/developed. Since there are freely-available existing tools that can do the translation, this is probably already available, but evaluating them, and addressing any concerns, ahead-of-time would help.
  4. A majority of office suite users have some method for reading this format, e.g., via a plug-in or by using a separate tool to read the format. After all, many just read documents, not generate them, and it will be easier to gain acceptance of the new format if writers know that most people can read them. Widespread ability to read the format will reduce the risks once people start sending them out. This may involve in some cases having two office suites installed (e.g., one of the freely-available office suites to read files in the new format) or a non-native plug-in. This is a common way to reduce risk in a transition period: have both the old and new available.
  5. All new office suites acquired must support reading & writing this format, natively {current version of the architecture, part 1}. This may be able to stay at January 1, 2007, though it's ambitious.
  6. All new office suites acquired must support reading & writing this format, natively, and be configured to save using these formats by default {current version of the architecture, part 2}. This may need to wait until mid-year 2007. You can't do this until most readers will be able to read this format, and that might not be achieved by January 1, 2007.
  7. The majority of writeable office documents provided the public via website must be ONLY in this format. The goal here is to eliminate constant translation work, and encourage laggards to transition.

I hope that they have some sort of plan for distributing tools to allow reading and writing this format for their circumstances. If not, they should create one; rolling out any change (even a very good one) requires planning.

NOTE: I have no financial interest in their choice of format. You should certainly listen to all vendors, but I hope that they consider advice from any biased vendor with a large grain of salt. Anyway, my two cents, and speaking just for myself.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft formats can't be implemented by their main competitors,so they disqualified themselves
Authored by: dwheeler on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 06:27 PM EDT
For people just tuning in: Microsoft also has an XML format, but Microsoft's XML format cannot be implemented by programs licensed under the GNU GPL, the most common (by far) open source software license. In contrast, OpenDocument can be implemented by anyone who uses any license, proprietary or open source -- including the GNU GPL license and Microsoft's current Office license. So OpenDocument is open for anyone to implement... and Microsoft's XML format isn't.

That's basically a death knell for Microsoft's format. Fifteen years ago it was easy to ignore open source software. Now that the market has all sorts of open source software, governments cannot in fairness mandate a standard that forbids implementations that use the most popular license for open source software. See here for GPL stats. I looked up the data for today, Sep 1, 2005; Freshmeat's statistics report that 67.41% of branches used the GPL, with the next-closest being LGPL (6.06%) and original BSD (3.34%). Even if you pretended that all non-GPL licenses were identical, when combined they're still the minority. Not all backers of open source software like or use the GPL, but making it illegal to use such a widely-used license, for no good reason in public policy, is lunacy. Other countries are even less likely to do so; while Massachusetts sees Microsoft as a domestic company, other countries will see Microsoft as a foreign company and be even less likely to forbid competition against a foreign company.

I expect that Microsoft would be unhappy if Massachusetts mandated that only GPL'ed software could be used by Massachusetts. Yet if Massachusetts did that, they could at least argue the advantages of doing so in terms of transparency of the code. (No, I'm not arguing that Massachusetts should do that, I'm just trying to make a point.) In contrast, Microsoft wants Massachusetts to mandate that GPL'ed software be forbidden for use in office suites. There's no good public policy reason to do that, and lots of competitive reasons to avoid doing so. Especially when there's a ready alternative -- an international standard, already implemented multiple times, including some high-quality freely-available implementations (given them a range of options). I get the impression that Massachusetts worked really hard with Microsoft to get them to change the license to something more reasonable, so that Microsoft wouldn't so obviously disqualify its work. Yet Microsoft continues to try to promulgate a specification license that forbids competition. Expecting any government to perpetually forbid the use of GPL'ed office suites is rediculous, and Microsoft should have known better.

Governments don't need to forbid, or mandate, the GPL in office suites. Massachusetts can simply choose OpenDocument, as they have done, and then all vendors (proprietary and open source) can implement the specification and compete on cost, functionality, flexibility, consistency with public policy, and so on. In other words, Massachusetts can do what governments usually do - MA can set a fair requirement that anyone can meet, clearly justified by its needs, and then use whichever suppliers meet their requirements (in this case, for an interoperable format). Massachusetts has made its requirements clear enough, and I don't see why Microsoft should have any trouble implementing that requirement for OpenDocument in short order. They should certainly be able to do it by January 1, 2007. If Microsoft can't find any in-house programmers who are capable of the job, I suspect IBM or Sun could do it under contract in short order. Microsoft says that they want to support a publicly-specified XML format. The world has chosen it! Hopefully, Microsoft will be willing to meet its customers' requirements.

There's no use in complaining that their proprietary format wasn't chosen. Microsoft was told that a format usable by all was desired, Microsoft was unwilling to provide it, and so other (hungrier) suppliers have stepped up to meet the government's needs. That's how the market works.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Look at all the news reporters without a clue! MA didn't reject Microsoft Office...!
Authored by: dwheeler on Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 11:35 PM EDT
Wow, it's amazing! Reporters who can't read!! Well, I wish it surprised me. A lot of news reports are claiming that Massachusetts rejected Microsoft Office, even though they did no such thing.

The Massachusetts announcement did not reject Microsoft Office. It rejected Microsoft XML. Massachusetts has told Microsoft, in maximally clear language, that Massachusetts wants Microsoft to implement OpenDocument within about a year. Which should be really easy for Microsoft. Microsoft just has to get on the stick and implement an OpenDocument plug-in, which it can do easily.

Microsoft decided to ignore the standards, and so they'll have to play catch-up, but they can do it. History is a guide, here. In the late 1980s through 1995, Microsoft refused to accept the Internet TCP/IP (and later web) standards, trying to get everyone to use Microsoft's proprietary networking standards. Even though everyone used Microsoft clients, they rejected Microsoft's networking standards, and chose plug-ins or switched away from Microsoft. Microsoft suddenly realized that its customers were leaving, and that they were about to be completely sidelined. Around 1995 Gates commanded his troops to do an about-face and rush to get TCP/IP and the WWW far better supported. It wasn't pretty at the time, but in fairly short order they got at least some things working to remain competitive. Microsoft has been powerful for a long time, but not omnipotent; when the market moves toward important interoperability standards, Microsoft usually manages to support them eventually, even if Microsoft had been trying to sell an alternative.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Not OT at all
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 02 2005 @ 06:16 AM EDT
Firstly, I would like to express my sympathy for all those affected by the bridge tragedy in Iraq and all those suffering from the effects of hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans and in all the other places in its path of devastation.

I found this link UK government wakes up to Firefox hidden away in OT above. This is a subject close to my heart being a user of the offending Jobcentreplus site and I have mentioned it on Groklaw before. Perhaps someone is beginning to wake up on this side of the Atlantic too.

Alan(UK)

[ Reply to This | # ]

News.com.com article + reply from Jeremy Allison
Authored by: pointwood on Friday, September 02 2005 @ 10:34 AM EDT
http://news.com.com/Massachusetts+to+adopt+open+desktop/2100-1012_3-5845451.html
?tag=nefd.top

Includes a couple of obvious comments from MS and friends:

=== Cut ===
He said Microsoft can provide the same data interoperability and archiving that
Massachusetts is pursuing because Microsoft publishes the XML schema of its
Office applications and makes available through a royalty free license.

One 300-member coalition called the Initiative for Software Choice which is
affiliated with the Computing Technology Industry Association ( CompTIA) said
that the Massachusetts proposal was "troubling" and limits competition
in the state's procurement process.
=== Cut ===

Talkback from Jeremy Allison of Samba Team fame:
http://news.com.com/5208-1012-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=9245&messageID=6
6516&start=-1

---
Pointwood
JabberID: Pointwood@jabber.shd.dk

[ Reply to This | # ]

MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - my thoughts
Authored by: dwheeler on Friday, September 02 2005 @ 06:32 PM EDT
I ended up collecting my various comments, and placing them in a short essay I've titled Why OpenDocument Won. Yeah, the title's provocative, but things sure don't look good for Microsoft's XML format. OpenDocument, on the other hand, is sitting rather pretty. Comments welcome.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Blasts Massachusetts' New XML Policy
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 02 2005 @ 10:20 PM EDT
Ch eck this out...MS responds!

Scott

[ Reply to This | # ]

Groklaw © Copyright 2003-2013 Pamela Jones.
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
Comments are owned by the individual posters.

PJ's articles are licensed under a Creative Commons License. ( Details )