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The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio
Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:27 PM EST

Eric Kriss, Secretary for the Executive Office of the Administration of Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has kindly given us permission to share with you audio of his recent speech on Open Formats, which we earlier reported. It was Dan Bricklin who made the mp3 and was nice enough to let us have it, and I've also morphed it into Ogg format. And that brings me to my reason for sharing this transcript and audio. It turns out that the current list of formats that qualify for Massachusetts government public documents use is just the beginning. Next month, they will be releasing an amplified list.

If I were going to add to the list, I think I'd point out two things: one, that when there are video and audio files, it's important that GNU/Linux users not be excluded and that for many, that means they'd like to be able to use the natural and free applications that come with and/or match best that operating system, such as Ogg Vorbis for audio.

And second, I would hope that the handicapped would be considered. For the blind, as I've learned from doing Groklaw, that means that PDF files also be made available in plain text, so speech applications can read documents to them. And for the deaf, it means that audio and video files have transcripts in plain text made available. Personally, if I were doing it, I'd use plain text for everything, no matter what other formats I also made a document available in, for the same reasons Project Gutenberg does:

File Formats. Whenever possible, Project Gutenberg distributes a plain text version of an eBook. Other formats, such as HTML, XML, RTF, and others are also welcome, but plain text is the "lowest common denominator." We stress the inclusion of plain text because of its longevity: Project Gutenberg includes numerous text files that are 20-30 years old. In that time, dozens of widely used file formats have come and gone. Text is accessible on all computers, and is also insurance against future obsolescence.

My other concern is that when a definition of Open Formats says it must be nondiscriminatory, it means specifically that no license include requirements that conflict with the General Public License. The SenderID flap comes to mind, and this is a good time to let you know that there are now transcripts of the FTC's Email Authentication Summit of last November 9 and 10 available in PDF format.

I would hope if Microsoft does follow up on changing their license for XML, as they have told Massachusetts they will, that they rewrite it to make sure that it does not conflict with the GPL. If they do that, I'll surely write poetry in praise of Microsoft. A haiku, at a minimum.

Here is a transcript of the speech. It wasn't until I did the transcript that I fully understood that Microsoft has been exiled from public documents by the state of Massachusetts unless they change their exclusionary license. Thank you, Massachusetts.

I'd also recommend the following references:

  • Lawrence Rosen's Letter to the FTC on Open Standards and precisely how Microsoft's Sender ID patent license terms conflict with the GPL, text and PDF
  • David Wheeler's Why Open Source Software/Free Software? Look at the Numbers!", which has recently been updated, here
  • Bruce Perens' The Problem of Sofware Patents and Standards

So, speak now, Groklaw, if you have suggestions, or forever hold your peace. If you have already commented on the earlier article, feel free to reference your earlier comments or to repeat your suggestions. I'll be making a collection of the most thoughtful comments to forward to Mr. Kriss. Here is the transcript to get you thinking.

************************

DAN BRICKLIN: We're running a little behind, so if you would all open up and take out your, the thing that tells you what Eric's background is [laughter], you'll see that it's also on the website and you also know, if you go to the website, that he's only one click away from the Governor, which is pretty heavy-duty. He also used to be a Software Council member. We're really happy that he chose the Software Council as the place to go to discuss stuff. Last time, he spoke to some of us, he talked about the Open Source and Open Standards initiatives, which shook up the industry a lot. It shows how they're trying to move along in ways that John [Landrey - previous speaker] talked about and others, and take advantage of it to the benefit of us in the Commonwealth

So it's my pleasure to welcome Eric Kriss, former Council member and the Secretary for the Executive Office of the Administration of Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, here to speak to us this morning. Eric.

ERIS KRISS: Thank you, Dan. And I want to thank Joyce for allowing me to spend a couple of minutes with you in the middle of what I know is a very busy program, and I will make my comments brief. And hopefully they will be of interest to you.

It was exactly a year ago that we first launched the Open Standards policy. It was actually January the 13th, 2004, which set out for state government in Massachusetts the way we anticipated planning, developing, and using systems in the future. And those open standards began what is going to be a continual evolutionary process to better define, better understand, and go forward, with not only those of us in state government but obviously with the vendor community and all of you as well.

In light of that, we're ready to extend the concept of Open Standards to the next step or stage. And I'm making an informal announcement today to you. We're looking forward as always to comments -- feedback -- because it's been terrific. One of the best assets that we have is all of you and the tremendous amount of brainpower that resides in this room and in the greater community in the software industry in Massachusetts.

But we are planning to extend the definition of Open Standards to what we are now going to be calling "Open Formats". Open Standards, as you know, are specifications for systems developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body, and an example for that would be, for example, XML, a method of exchanging data.

Open Formats, as we're thinking about them, and we're trying to be precise with the language, because people use different English words for different technical terms, in our definition, "Open Formats" are specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body; or, de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms.

And I will illuminate that a little bit more in a second. An example of an Open Format that we have already characterized is .TXT text files and PDF document formats. And we're going to be promulgating some time next month an additional list.

Let me make a comment as to why we care about this, and I should also say as I launch into this that this effort on the importance for open formats really concerns public records and public documents, and we've done this with full cooperation and collaboration of the Secretary of State of the Commonwealth.

The Secretary of State and I jointly have responsibility for the stuff of government, and he has his own responsibilities and I have mine, but they really overlap quite a bit. And the two of us, in terms of our Constitutional and formal offices, really are responsible for overseeing what there is going to be of state government when we look back a hundred years, whether there's going to be anything or not, with respect to the public records aspect of what we do.

It should be reasonably obvious for a lay person who looks at the concept of Public Documents that we've got to keep them independent and free forever, because it is an overriding imperative of the American democratic system that we cannot have our public documents locked up in some kind of proprietary format or locked up in a format that you need to get a proprietary system to use some time in the future.

So, one of the things that we're incredibly focused on is insuring that independent, that public records remain independent of underlying systems and applications, insuring their accessibility over very long periods of time. In the IT business a long period of time is about 18 months. In government it's about 300 years, so we have a slightly different perspective.

Open Formats insure also that there are minimal restrictions imposed on the use of applications needed to access those records and files. And finally, Open Formats support the integrity of public records when we're going to need to do a file conversion as required probably in the course of normal technological evolution. So if we have something in a format of 2005, and it's going to need to be converted in 2038 into something that we've never thought of yet, we need to be able to do that without losing the integrity in the underlying information.

Given the fragmented legal status now of proprietary formats, the Commonwealth will only certify an Open Format designation when minimal legal restrictions exist on the reading and dissemination of government records.

We will increasingly rely on the promulgation of Open Standards for file formats by national and international standards bodies. The Oasis OpenOffice XML format technical community would be one example of that. And our future systems, as we look to the long run future, will require full support of open formats, as well as open standards.

Now, we've published our initial open standards policy as I indicated a year ago. And the latest version, although we're going to be changing the language of the way we describe it, has already indicated that TXT, RTF, HTM, PDF AND XML, to the extent it is used to specify a format, are all open formats.

But what I want to discuss informally today is we have been in a conversation with Microsoft for several months with regard to the patent that they have and the license surrounding their use of XML to specify specifically .DOC files in Microsoft Office 2003.

They have made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe, if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about -- we will leave it obviously to them to describe exactly what they are going to do -- that it is our expectation that when we do issue the next iteration of the standard that, in fact, the Microsoft, what are proprietary formats, will be deemed to be Open Formats because they will no longer have the restrictions on their use they currently have.

That would include potentially, and, again, we need to wait for the final designation of this by Microsoft, it would include Word Processing ML, which is the wrapper around .DOC files, Spreadsheet ML, which is the wrapper around .XLS files and the form template schemas.

Obviously, we are going to be talking to other companies and other entities that may have restrictions around the use of those formats, and we hope to either get them removed or have further conversations so that as we all move forward together in this wonderful evolution of technology, we are going to insure that at least to the government, we will be able to reference something a hundred years from now, and it won't get lost forever.

Thank you very, very much.

[applause]


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