Coursey is wrong on Massachusetts
By webmink on Sep 08, 2005
I just read an article by David Coursey, Massachusetts' Move to Open Format is Close-minded, and I'm afraid he has it totally wrong - too much time spent drinking from the fountain of Redmond wisdom, I fear, and not enough listening to David Berlind who understands the real issues perfectly. He criticises the proposal by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to mandate a policy of using open formats for its business, saying
"I am not sure what the real problem is with using Microsoft file formats. No, they are not open, but they aren't completely closed, either. There are a number of non-Microsoft apps that support them. That makes Microsoft file formats "open enough" for many users."
What a short-term view. The real point is not what applications are available today, it's that allowing the use of formats that are under the control of a single party - without transparency of process or involvement from any other interested group - results in what I call "corporate Alzheimer's", where you are condemned to be unable to use your documents at some point in the future where the tools available today that access the format are no longer available and/or usable. This becomes even more of an issue once the format gets wrappered in DRM, which causes early onset of corporate Alzheimer's. That's the reason the National Archive of Australia was involved in defining OASIS OpenDocument - to ensure future historians are able to access digital source documents key to Australia's history. If we don't use open standard formats, we are doomed to forget.
Coursey goes on to say
"[Mr Quinn has] created the 2007 requirement for an open storage format to create an excuse for removing Microsoft Office from state workers' desktops."
My word, that is worthy of a Microsoft press release. Microsoft could most likely add the same level of support for OpenDocument as they have for previous versions of Word, for WordPerfect and for about 20 other file formats, and do it easily by 2007. Members of the OpenDocument committee tell me they put in a great deal of effort to ensure the format was capable of easy conceptual mapping to MS Office formats, not least because of the need to make the writing of conversion filters easy.
The truth is exactly the opposite of what Coursey asserts. Massachusetts are not anti-Microsoft when they make this decision, as they are at pains to explain - they are pro-openness. Any company that chooses not to support the open, standard format excludes themselves, they are not being excluded by Massachusetts.
The effects of allowing public administrations to use software that flouts standards are painfully clear, as the examples of the Copyright Office and of FEMA have made clear. Sun, like IBM (well done, Bob) have written to Mr Quinn in Massachusetts to endorse the decision, which is principled, wise, brave and most importantly pro- rather than anti-competitive. It seems so obvious that in the participation age documents need to be long-term readable in any word-processor that the only way to object is by invoking FUD and XML schema.
Coursey does get one thing right, though. He says
"I encourage Microsoft to meet Massachusetts' demand by opening its own formats or, alternately, teaching Office to read and write the OpenDocument format."
That's what we've all been saying for years, and the fact they have done neither (their formats are not open because of restrictions on who can implement them and because control is not shared) will be their downfall. Failure on both counts means only the latter is open to them, and they would be well advised to stop FUD-ing and get on with it
Update: Tim Bray has posted on his blog a copy of the letter Scott McNealy sent to Mr Quinn.