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FOX's Anti-MASS FUD is a Dud - Updated
Thursday, September 29 2005 @ 03:15 PM EDT

If you go to Fox News, or in my case, if someone sends you the url, you find the following blurb:
Wrong Move
Massachusetts adopts a
bad technology policy that
will cost taxpayers and
consumers

Of course, it sends you to an editorial about the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' decision to use the OpenDocument format. And it's our chance to see inside of Microsoft's head, because it's a guest editorial by James Prendergast of Americans for Technology Leadership. The editorial has the hilarious title, "Massachusetts Should Close Down OpenDocument."

Like they could close down OpenDocument, even if they had a mind to. It's a standard. No one can close it down. That's the beauty part. It's one reason Massachusetts has chosen it.

Americans for Technology Leadership is listed on SourceWatch, where it says that the organization has been "frequently described as a Microsoft front group" and if the name sounds familiar to you, here's why:

In August 2001 the Los Angeles Times reported that a ATL was behind a "carefully orchestrated nationwide campaign to create the impression of a surging grass-roots movement" behind Microsoft. "The campaign, orchestrated by a group partly funded by Microsoft, goes to great lengths so that the letters appear to be spontaneous expressions from ordinary citizens. Letters sent in the last month are printed on personalized stationery using different wording, color and typefaces--details that distinguish those efforts from common lobbying tactics that go on in politics every day. Experts said there's little precedent for such an effort supported by a company defending itself against government accusations of illegal behavior."

According to the Times, the campaign was discovered when Utah's Attorney General at the time Mark Shurtleff received letters "purportedly written by at least two dead people ... imploring him to go easy on Microsoft Corp. for its conduct as a monopoly."

So this ... snort ... "grassroots" group would like Massachusetts to close down OpenDocument, and here are a few of their reasons:

The policy promises to burden taxpayers with new costs and to disrupt how state agencies interact with citizens, businesses and organizations.

Worse, the policy represents an attack on market-based competition, which in turn will hurt innovation. The state has a disaster in the making.

Until now, Massachusetts’ citizens and government agencies have been well served by a competitive, merit-based procurement process for technology services. Agencies can turn to the marketplace—often to small state-based systems integrators—and receive bids for the best solutions at the best price to meet specific needs. The proposed policy throws out this system, and instead makes the blind pre-determined selection of applications using the largely immature, rarely deployed OpenDocument technology.

For many needs, such applications do not exist and will have to be built from the ground up. In other cases, the OpenDocument solution may cost more and provide less, but agencies and citizens will have to pay the price and make do. . . . In many cases, new technologies will have to be purchased even when current systems are fully functional. In other words, taxpayers will be paying duplicative costs.

I feel like answering Mr. Prendergast, directly, person to person, mano a mano, so to speak, if he doesn't mind wrestling with a girl.

Cost more? Duplicative costs? OpenOffice.org is free for the download, sir. Please explain to me how that can cost more. No "independent" studies, please, with brain-twisting arguments on how free really isn't free and how the earth is actually flat. We saw enough of those "studies" to know how much they offer the discussion. Thanks, anyway, but we caught on to that game already. Just so you know.

An attack on marked-based competition? I believe that is Microsoft's skill. It is the convicted monopolist, is it not? Both in the US and in Europe? As a result, the world finds itself locked into a convicted monopoly's products. That is the problem. Or we would be locked in, except the most wonderful thing has happened. A group of good-hearted and skilled volunteers decided to write an operating system that is available under the GPL, so it's free as in speech and free as in beer, and we can download it ourselves and we don't have to use Microsoft's software unless we actually want to. Isn't that great news?

Massachusetts has decided not to be locked in to any vendor in particular, although it isn't anti-Microsoft, because it has this idea in its head that citizens have the right to access their own documents without having to pay anyone and without restrictions as to what operating system they have to use or technical blockages to access not only now but way into the future. Lots of people like to use GNU/Linux systems and Apple software, you know. Or maybe you hadn't heard? And what if Microsoft isn't in existence in 200 years or no longer supports a certain application? Then how will our children and grandchildren open and read the documents we are saving today? With proprietary software, you can't just take a look at the code and figure out how to open and read the document. There are laws about that. The OpenDocument format ensures we'll always be able to open and read the documents. That is why it is a superior format for Massachusetts' governmental needs.

As for throwing out prior systems, isn't Microsoft itself moving away from the .doc format with its next release of its code? So there is going to be a migration going on, one way or another.

And the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council called a meeting with Massachusetts Secretary of Administration & Finance Eric Kriss, CIO of the Commonwealth Peter Quinn, representatives from Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, Sun, and other companies and groups to discuss the XML/Open Document format decision and to provide feedback to Massachusetts.

At that meeting, Massachusetts' Kriss very clearly told Microsoft exactly how to be included. It was Microsoft that refused to support OpenDocument, which it is still free to do, not Massachusetts refusing to let Microsoft in. We heard it ourselves on the audio, James. So you can't spin this one. The audio tape is still available right here, so you can listen also and not suffer from this misinformation in your head or spread it, either.

If you missed it, Sun Microsystem's CEO Scott McNealy's letter to Peter Quinn, ITD Director & Chief Information Officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is worth rereading on this point:

Some may contend that the decision is unfairly dictating a software preference. This is entirely wrong; the guidelines make it clear that any applications need only support an open, unencumbered document format. Your guidelines do not limit any vendor’s ability to compete for state business because the required open formats are available equally to all, and participation in their development is equally open to all.

The Commonwealth has an Open Standards policy too, which they explain has the following related purpose:

The Commonwealth must ensure that its investments in information technology result in systems that are sufficiently interoperable to meet the business requirements of its agencies and to effectively serve its constituencies. This policy addresses the importance of open standards compliance for IT investments in the Commonwealth. For the purpose of this policy, open standards is defined as follows:

Open Standards: Specifications for systems that are publicly available and are developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is an example of an open standard. Open standards imply that multiple vendors can compete directly based on the features and performance of their products. It also implies that the existing information technology solution is portable and that it can be removed and replaced with that of another vendor with minimal effort and without major interruption (see current version of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model).

Applicability

Agencies within the Executive Department and vendors providing information technology goods and services to these agencies must comply with this policy.

The new data formats policy is evidence that Massachusetts likes open standards and formats, and they have set forth which formats meet their needs and are therefore acceptable. The decision is made, and for some mighty fine reasons. The decision won't change now. Microsoft is therefore faced with a decision. Everyone hopes it will decide to support the OpenDocument format, but if it doesn't choose to, any difficulties users of its software face -- and they should be few, thanks to the labor by the FOSS community -- falls on *Microsoft's* shoulders, not on Massachusetts. The whole world is watching.

As for OpenDocument being allegedly “largely immature” and “rarely deployed," in reality, the format was developed and reviewed by experts in the field over several years.

As for which software is superior in performance, you quote a journalist who wrote that OpenOffice.org is slower than Excel and various other irrelevant things. I say irrelevant because what Massachusetts is after is something far more important. It wants the documents saved today to be accessible in 100 years. OpenDocument ensures that. Microsoft's software does not. Or, more accurately, it could, but it refuses. This discussion isn't about which software is more polished. It's about which one is open, unencumbered, and usable by all operating systems, standards-based, and not tied to just one commercial vendor. Of course, OpenOffice.org would be better if Microsoft would open up its APIs and let the world interoperate, but it is good enough to meet the Commonwealth's needs already. That is the point Microsoft hasn't absorbed. We don't have to use Microsoft's software any more, unless we want to. It has to make us *want* to, and in the case of Massachusetts, that means supporting the OpenDocument format.

Of course, it won't do that, because it feels that its proprietary information is the company's leg up, which is its decision to make. But the company has done so many tricky things in the past, hooks and switches with the software, that we don't trust it to interoperate with other software we like to use, and we are aware that using its products means we are dependent on its whim as to access in the future.

That's the heart of the problem Microsoft faces in trying to qualify for a governmental requirement of support for open standards and open formats. That is Microsoft's dilemma, not Massachusetts'. The Commonwealth is very happy to have Microsoft participate, but they have certain needs in regard to the software they use, and Microsoft will have to meet those needs, if it wishes to join the party. Honestly, we consumers all wish it would, in all sincerity.

We notice Microsoft's refusal to support OpenDocument format, and we know what it means. It means they are thinking competitively, not cooperatively. When Microsoft refuses to play nicely with others, we know from history exactly what that means for us consumers. It means we get fewer choices in the marketplace, and software we like to use ends up Microsoft road kill, with the result that we can't use it any more. Is that what you meant by encouraging innovation?

The people will be forced to switch fib. Maybe you don't realize that it's incorrect to state the following:

The burden, however, reaches well beyond simple taxpayer costs. Businesses, organizations and citizens who interact with the state will also be forced to support Massachusetts’ mandated technologies. Law firms that file electronically, businesses that regularly share information with agencies via electronic files, even citizens who want to take advantage of online services will potentially have to purchase, install and learn new software to comply with the policy. These added costs would be substantial.

That's flat out FUD. It's not true. OpenOffice.org and other software that supports the OpenDocument format can open Microsoft Office documents, so no one has to buy anything new. And, may I remind you, they can download it for free, anyway, even if they did need to change. But they don't. They can send in whatever they wish, and Massachusetts will be able to read it. Massachusetts doesn't have to throw out any Microsoft software either, in order to save documents in OpenDocument format. You can download OpenOffice.org for Windows. You can put a document written in Word format into OOo, read it just fine, and then just choose to save it in an OpenDocument format. Yes, OpenOffice.org can do that too. It does the reverse also. If I type up a document, here are my choices. I can save it as:

  • OpenOffice.org Text Document (.sxw)
  • Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP (.doc)
  • Microsoft Word 95 (.doc)
  • Microsoft Word 6.0 (.doc)
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf)
  • StarWriter 5.0 (.sdw)
  • StarWriter 4.0 (.sdw)
  • StarWriter 3.0 (.sdw)
  • Text (.txt)
  • Text Encoded (.txt)
  • HTML Document (OpenOffice.org Writer)(.html;.htm)

There are probably more now. That's just the list of what the version of OpenOffice.org I have on my computer today can save as. So, never fear, James. You can quit clutching your Microsoft Office with your cold dead hands. No one is going to try to wrench it from you, or anyone, or make you or anyone else stop using it. If you wish to send the Commonwealth a letter, you can download OpenOffice.org and save the letter in an appropriate format, but if you don't feel like it, Massachusetts will have the ability to deal with the issue on their end. And if Massachusetts wants to send you a letter, they can use OpenOffice.org or StarOffice or any application that supports the OpenDocument format, save the letter in Word format just for you, and send it. End of "problem".

Then, you list two implied legal threats, or I take them as being such. First, you allege that some say that the policy may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you go to the Massachusetts website, you'll find this statement:

Open Document Format Standard and the Disabilities Community

ITD is grateful for the thoughtful comments that we have received from the community of persons with disabilities. ITD will work closely with this community to ensure that their legal rights are respected and their practical concerns regarding the implementation of the proposed Open Document format standard are addressed.

Next, you say that the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association (MDAA) "raised practical and legal questions about the plan. At the most fundamental level, the MDAA questioned why district attorneys’ offices would be forced to switch away from technology that meets their needs." They have to switch because their boss said so. It's that simple. Bosses do that. They can because they are the boss. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a sovereign state. Sovereignty means they can make laws and set regulations and no one can stop them, unless they clash swords with the US Constitution. Other than that, the federal government itself can't tell Massachusetts what software to use. Neither can Microsoft. As Secretary Eric Kriss told Microsoft at the meeting, "Sovereignty trumps intellectual property." It trumps almost everything. You may have noticed that in the Katrina disaster. Without getting into the results and blame or any of that, one thing you may have noted is that Louisiana had to ask the federal government to help; the feds couldn't just march in and take over.

I would suggest that you read David Berlind's article on ZDNET, "Did Microsoft Send the Wrong Guy to Massachusetts' ODF Hearing?"

Had Microsoft come to play ball instead of digging its heals in as it did, the outcome might have been very different. Had I been a member of Gates and Ballmer's executive team, I would have advised them to be at this meeting. I would have said "Be prepared to listen and gauge the state's resolve. If you're alone in this fight — and you probably will be — you don't want to come across as the arrogant agitator. That's not going to look good to the people in attendance. It's not going to look good to the public. It's not going to look good to the industry. And it's certainly not going to look good to other governments and organizations that are watching with a keen interest in the outcome. Instead, be prepared to be the cooperative facilitator. They're looking for partners. If being a partner means opening our formats as much as Adobe has opened PDF, or if it means supporting ODF, then now is the time to do so. This is the opportunity to show the world that we're so confident in our implementation of Office that we can comply with such standards and still win. After all, Adobe did it with PDF and they're way smaller than us. Not to mention, if Bill or Steve are there with that sort of message, it really looks like you're personally interested in the needs of a very important customer and that's always a good thing."

But that's not the message that Microsoft sent to the world on Sept. 16. And seven days later, on Sept. 23, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Model 3.5 was final and Microsoft was officially "out." Whereas Microsoft's proprietary formats had a shot at becoming the open standard (perhaps giving Office 12 a head start over competitors), that honor is now ODF's and ODF's alone. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this may be the first time that Microsoft so publicly got sent home with its tail between its legs. If Microsoft keeps this "we know better than you" behavior up, it probably won't be the last.

Microsoft is out in the cold because it marched itself out into the snow and slammed the door behind itself on itself. All it has to do is turn itself around, open the door, support the OpenDocument format, and that is the end of its problem. But the ball is in Microsoft's court.

FUD won't work on this. It's the Internet age, you know. Haven't you heard? The Internet changes everything. Even the effectiveness of FUD. Which is why your FUD is a dud.

UPDATED: Fox News has today, Friday, September 30, place an article on its website, linked from the Prendergast article, "Editor's Note: Disclosing Writers' Affiliations", and it reads in part:

The column "Massachusetts Should Close Down OpenDocument" that appeared on FOXnews.com Sept. 28 identified author James Prendergast as executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership, but failed to disclose that Microsoft is a founding member of that organization. . . .

Mr. Prendergast's affiliation with Microsoft should have been stated clearly in the article.

If you note, the bio information after the article by Mr. Prendergast now states his affiliation.


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