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David Coursey's Massachusetts FUD
Friday, December 30 2005 @ 11:59 PM EST

We have a winner for most tasteless reaction to Peter Quinn's resignation, David Coursey's mean-spirited "opinion" on eWeek, offensively titled "The Open-Source Martyr Meets His Fate."

Before I tell you about that, let me tell you this: everything I am hearing is that Massachusetts is firm in its decision to go with OpenDocument Format. If Microsoft can meet the Commonwealth's definition of openness, ha ha, they can qualify too, but that has always been the case. It was only Microsoft's intransigence that had them out in the cold, their refusal to support ODF, for reasons that make no sense to anyone, that shut them out. Now they're trying a workaround, and we'll see how that works out for them, but the ODF decision is firm.

Let's see what else Coursey has to say in what I nominate as the FUD winner for 2005. He couldn't win in 2003 or 2004, of course, because Darl McBride won for those years, hands down. But Darl's been quiet as a little mouse recently, and SCO filed its "evidence" under seal, so that left an opening for Coursey, and he surely surged to the head of the FUD pack today, if not for the year.

First, the inaccurate title.

Quinn is not an "Open Source" martyr, because ODF is not Open Source.

Period. Coursey really should correct the title and the article on that, because it is factually incorrect. And eWeek needs to ask itself, how much does this man actually know about this subject if he writes something as inaccurate as that? If he does know better, does eWeek intend to be in the FUD business? I doubt it. But where was the editor, who let this slip?

To prove my point, let's let Coursey explain in his own words what Massachusetts' decision to go with ODF meant:

Quinn's edict had the effect of saying that unless Microsoft implemented ODF, state workers would find their copies of Microsoft Office replaced by WordPerfect or, more likely, OpenOffice.

Let me ask you this: is WordPerfect an Open Source product? Why no. No, it isn't. And neither is StarOffice, which also supports ODF. And neither is Workplace, IBM's proprietary software that one could also switch to, if one wished to use only proprietary software. Here's a list of applications that support ODF.

ODF isn't software. It's a format. It's an open format. There is no such thing as an Open Source format, that I know of. Microsoft should support ODF, Coursey writes, and in writing it, his synapses should have connected and made him realize that it's proof positive that Quinn's decision to choose ODF wasn't a choice of Open Source software. Hence, he's not an "Open Source" martyr. He's an open format martyr, maybe, but even Coursey says open formats are the right goal. So... choosing the best format results in martyrdom?

Next, as the title indicates, Coursey seems to minimize the damage done to Quinn, trivializing his injury:

Before you shed too many tears for the man, consider that he's likely to fall up, landing a better job, for more money, than what the people of Massachusetts were paying him.

So, libel doesn't matter, if the victim gets a better job -- despite the libel -- afterward? What kind of morality is that? This man was smeared on the front page of The Boston Globe and undeservedly. What do you pay a man for his good name? What's it worth on the open market? There will always be some who will believe that he did something wrong, if only because the libel was on the front page, and the correction, stating that the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing, was hidden deep inside. Isn't that always the way?

Coursey says he's not surprised Quinn resigned, in fact he predicted it:

Quinn's plan proved unpopular with some state officials; it put Microsoft on the attack, and even brought Mr. Quinn himself under The Boston Globe's scrutiny.

Well. That's an interesting bit of news. What does he mean, "it put Microsoft on the attack"? Is Coursey directly linking the libel of Peter Quinn to Microsoft? Was it Microsoft, or a lobbyist for Microsoft, who got the Globe started on their failed, bogus investigation of Peter Quinn?

Coursey also says that while Peter Quinn's technical analysis was correct and Open Document Format is the right goal, even saying Microsoft should support it, he says that "most people think he was foolish." Oh? Why does he think so? He apparently thinks that if you don't recommend Microsoft, you will end up out of a job:

First, I told you so. I toned down my comments on Quinn's likelihood of survival in an earlier column because I don't think it's appropriate to predict someone's demise, but I never expected Quinn to be around if he persisted with his file format plans.

If this is the way it really is, is he saying that Microsoft is like the Mob? They make you an offer and you can't refuse? Or like a street gang, that you can join but you can never leave or there will be an unfortunate "demise"? If it's like that, does that make you want to do business with Microsoft? Or run in the opposite direction?

Do you want to do business with the Mob? No? Yet people do sometimes, when they are sat on. So is Mr. Coursey implying that that's why only a foolish person would dare to choose a format other than Microsoft's? What would he be saying about the company in saying such a thing? Is that how governments decide what format to use? Is it really based on who muscles them? Should it be?

That makes my mind ponder another question: what constitutes an anticompetitive act, under antitrust law? Can you libel anyone you think might be standing in your competitive way?

Coursey says Microsoft's software is probably open enough already, because a lot of people use it. Something tells me logic wasn't Coursey's major in college. Even Microsoft, by choosing to go the Ecma route and offering a patent covenant that covers even the GPL, is acknowledging that it needed to open up more in order to meet the Commonwealth's definition of openness. Ipso facto, it was *not* open enough. So far, they still haven't made the grade, and frankly, the Ecma process being what it is, I seriously doubt they ever can.

Here's the thing. Anyone who uses Microsoft products knows that upgrading Microsoft Word is a heartache and that you can't always easily access your old documents that you wrote in older versions. And even if they fix that, can anyone guarantee that the company will still exist in 100 years? Not even Microsoft can make that promise. No proprietary company can. And if they go out of business, who do you ask for the information and the authority to open those documents 100 years from now?

ODF means that it doesn't matter what vendor is still here then. You won't need to get a vendor's permission, or try to find out the proprietary technical info you need to access your documents, because it's an open format. Open Document Format means that you can do whatever you like, because you have total access and all authority, so it is impossible to ever have the door slammed on you and have a vendor throw away the key or disappear with it in its pocket, leaving you stranded. Your documents belong to you and only you, and you don't have to rely on a single vendor to guarantee you can read your own documents.

What is an open standard? A Groklaw member, Lars, who reads Norwegian, sent me a translation of an article in ComputerWorld.no today on that very subject, which he was kind enough to translate for us. An organization there has proposed 8 specifications to qualify as an open standard, 4 that the EU requires already, all of which ODF meets, and 4 the Norwegian organization proposes be added. Here's a bit of it:

The specifications have been sent to the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, and will also be sent to the national political parties....
1. The standard is approved and maintained by a non-commercial organization and the ongoing development is continued on the basis that the decision making process is open for all interested parties. (OpenDocument is maintained by the standards organization OASIS)

2. The standard is published and the documentation is available either free or for an insigificant fee. It is allowed for anyone to copy, distribute, or implement the standard free of charge.

3. The rights to the standards (e.g. patents) are made irrevocably available free of charge.

4. There are no restrictions on the re-use of the standard.

In order to make the format as user friendly as possible and to invite more innovative use of the standard within information systems, technical systems and so on, OpenDocument fulfills also the following which open standards should comply with:

5. The format is XML-based with a syntax which makes as much use of existing standards as possible. This simplifies the re-use of the standards significantly, at the same time it eases and invites innovative use of the standard.

6. There is no use of binary formats within the standard.

7. OpenDocument has no digital restrictions mechanisms built into it.

8. Use of OLE-objects is clearly documented in OpenDocument. Developers who have written programs which interoperate with OpenDocument experience that the format is easy to use, and works well with existing standards in a good and thorough manner. That one has complete access to information on all components of the standard makes development more effective and leaves one free to choose the best ICT-tool for the job.

In a normal world, which of those suggestions would anyone balk at?

Finally, Coursey ends with a prediction:

My expectation is that his plan will quietly go away and be forgotten, by everyone except other potential open-source martyrs who might see Quinn's experience as a cautionary tale.

As they say in the Westerns, it's one thing to be right—and something else entirely to be dead right.

Um. . . didn't Mr. Coursey just predict that Mr. Quinn will fall up to a better job? If so, will this entire incident not encourage others to follow in his footsteps? Joke. Joke. But seriously, is Microsoft now in the business of causing martyrdom? What else is he saying? People can be dealt with, if they don't cooperate? If they choose Open Source? Have we become so cynical that any of us think that's acceptable?

This is the time to explain, once again, that the Commonwealth did not choose Open Source. They can, if they want to, but they haven't yet. ODF is not Open Source. It's a format. It's not a software application or an office suite, and being an open format, anyone can support it, including Microsoft, as Coursey knows. And I've heard absolutely nothing to support his prediction that the ODF plan will "go away" quietly or otherwise, except maybe in Microsoft's dreams.

I think Coursey and Microsoft are in for a surprise, if they think threatening folks will work long-term. Here's the thing Microsoft, and Coursey, are not factoring in. Microsoft can't bully everyone on Planet Earth, or buy us all off. In the end, what people use at home is what they want to use in the office, and vice versa, and the world is turning more and more to FOSS. Not even Microsoft has enough money to buy us all, for one thing, and some of us aren't for sale, for another. But the main reason is because FOSS is now concentrating on the desktop, and it will happen. As it improves, it becomes irresistable. For many of us, it already is ready for the desktop, and we use it every day. And we tell our families and friends about it, and we show them how to switch, and so it spreads. And so Microsoft is playing an end game now, trying to slow down the inevitable. They have to realize that, or they wouldn't need to threaten anyone or libel anyone, if that is what they did.

And do you know why it's inevitable that the world is going to increasingly turn to Free and Open Source software? Because no one muscles you to use it. It's based on old-fashioned values of trust and honesty and fairness. Who doesn't want those things? No. Really. Think about it. Who likes to be told they have to use a product or they'll be punished? That is so wildly offensive on so many levels it truly amazes me that Coursey can even think it could work out in the end for any company. It's contrary to human nature.

Incidents like the libel of Peter Quinn cost Microsoft business. Here's why: There's something in the human heart that utterly despises a bully.


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