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Microsoft Whines About MA's Decision to Support OpenDocument
Saturday, October 15 2005 @ 05:28 AM EDT

Microsoft is not happy about Massachusetts' decision to choose OpenDocument Format over its own MS XML, and it contacted ZDNET's David Berlind, asking to tell him their side of the story, a tale of conspiracies. In a not-to-be-missed article, Berlind carefully sets forth all their arguments:
"We were railroaded."

Those were not Microsoft's exact words, but if you were a fly on the wall during my recent series of correspondences with Microsoft's Alan Yates regarding how Microsoft's XML-based Office file formats ended up off of Massachusetts' list of approved file formats (essentially pulling the state's plug on future usage of Microsoft Office), it would be difficult to summarize his opinion in any other way. . . .

On the heels of such a stunning blow and with so much at stake, Microsoft is still looking to shape public opinion in hopes of containing and perhaps even reversing the damage. Since I've devoted a fair amount of coverage to the MA ETRM deliberations (What ever happened to 'The customer is always right?' and Did MS send the wrong guy to Mass' ODF hearing?), Yates asked if I'd be open to hearing Microsoft's side of the story.

But just as Microsoft failed to persuade Massachusetts, it also fails to persuade Berlind in the end. Despite the strong spin from a wounded Microsoft -- they allege a lack of due process, that they were allegedly "surprised" by the decision, not given equal opportunity to qualify, blah blah -- Berlind understands perfectly that Microsoft exiled itself by refusing to support OpenDocument Format, despite being told how to qualify for inclusion by simply deciding to meet Massachusetts' requirements.

This article on Massachusetts and the ETRM explains the Massachusetts definition of open format:

As presented in the ETRM Version 3.5 Introduction and Information Domain final documents of September 21, 2005, the Commonwealth defines open formats as "specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, affirmed and maintained by a standards body and are fully documented and publicly available. It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that all official records of the Commonwealth be created and saved in an acceptable format."

There you go, Microsoft. That is all you need to do.

What I find absolutely fascinating in Berlind's article is the back and forth between Microsoft and attorney Larry Rosen about the right to sub-license, something Microsoft's license does not allow. Microsoft tries again, just as it did in the Sendmail controversy, to say that even if their license isn't compatible with the GPL, it doesn't matter because it is compatible with other Open Source licenses. Rosen rebuts by providing a list of licenses that require sub-licensing rights, and says, "Open source depends on the right to sub-license."

You will also enjoy Adobe's statement, explaining its position on openness, and you can see clearly why it was included and Microsoft was not.

Contrast Microsoft's intransigence with the Sun Patent Non-Assertion Covenant for OpenDocument Offers Model for Open Standards. I wish everyone would use this covenant, actually. As the article says, "This irrevocable, blanket non-assertion covenant is being praised as a creative mechanism for patent management. It offers protection to Sun and the OpenDocument developer community, using a model that has no required patent disclosures and carries zero bureaucratic overhead."

Berlind responds to Microsoft's allegations of being shut out by pointing out that he heard with his own ears that Microsoft was told what to do to be included in Dan Bricklin's audio of the public meeting:

When Massachusetts put the ball in Microsoft's court so openly and publicly by giving it multiple ways to address the states' needs and continuing to leave those doors open, any and all claims of impropriety became non-issues. In addition to exposing the true colors of all parties involved, the audio from the Sept.16 makes it clear that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is clearly at the forefront of the open world.

Not only has Massachusetts developed a modern and virtually unassailable test (particularly for its requirements since virtually every part of the test can be connected to the state's need for sovereignty), it has fully leveraged the democratizing forces of government and technology to arrive at an informed decision that serves the best interests of its public.

Given the way this decision will be repeated in other halls of government, I think it can be said that Massachusetts has once again delivered a shot heard round the world. That Microsoft's biggest competitors were standing by the Commonwealth's side to help it pull the trigger is evidence of why Massachusetts ETRM 3.5 truly was ground zero in one of this industry's biggest and most important battles.

That public meeting audio is now available in Ogg format, as promised.

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