Massachusetts Makes Smart Move Official

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-09-26

Massachusetts Makes Smart Move Official

To say that fellow Ziff Davis Internet columnist David Coursey and I disagree on Massachusetts decision to require an open format for its documents is like saying dogs and cats are different.

Im a believer in open formats. I always have been. I always will be. And its good to see that Massachusetts gets it too.

Its really very simple. With an open standard, like OASIS OpenDocument, anyone at any time will be capable of using the format. Thats true of all open standards, from North Americas Type A & B electrical plugs to Wi-Fi networkings 802.11g to OpenDocument for office document formats.

Microsoft has claimed that its latest Office XML formats are just as open.

Almost no one outside of the Microsoft camp agrees.

For that matter, even Microsofts own Jean Paoli, senior director of XML architecture, has said, "I am not a lawyer and so am not the authority on this, but the GPL may not allow code that is attributable to another company like Microsoft to be included. But some other open-source licenses are compatible as far as I know."

Well, the author of the GPL and president of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, has said that Microsofts conditions for its "open" XML lack the freedoms necessary to be considered free software. And Stallman should know, dont you think?

So, Massachusetts made the smart choice, the only intelligent choice, of going with a standard that is not ultimately under the control of one company.

Look at it this way, would you buy a car that only ran on Exxon gas? Buy a CD that would only play on a Toshiba-brand CD player? Of course not!

Coursey worries that Massachusetts has "selected a format that is not supported by a single currently shipping office suite."

Click here to read why David Coursey calls Massachusetts move "dumb."

True, but so what? Nothing supports Microsoft Office 12s formats either.

Oh, you didnt know that?

The so-called open Office 2003 XML formats arent going to be Office 12s formats.

Next Page: OpenDocument has no secrets.

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At least with OpenDocument, we know exactly what were getting. Other than that Office 12 will be written in XML we dont have a clue as to what it will look like. That makes me feel real good about that standard, let me tell you.

You see, OpenDocument really is open, and thats why this objection is nonsense.

OpenOffice 1.1.5, which is already out, reads it. OpenOffice 2.0, which will be released shortly, already supports it. And Suns StarOffice 8, which is expected soon, will also support it. now supports the importing of OpenDocument documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Click here to read more.

Other office programs that are on their way to supporting it include Suns Java Desktop System, IBMs IBM Workplace and Corels WordPerfect Suite.

And let say it one more time: OpenDocument is an "open" format. Anyone, including Microsoft, can write to it.

Of course, Microsoft doesnt want to. The Redmond, Wash., giant makes its billions from locking users into its way of doing things. OpenDocument frees users. If everyone started using OpenOffice for their office documents they could decide, for instance, that StarOffice 8 for, say, $50 is a better deal than Microsoft Office at $500.

Heck, I was never more than a good programmer at my best, and its been ages since Ive done anything serious, but I could add in a few weeks OpenDocument compatibility to Microsoft Office if I had access to Microsofts source code. Someone who knew what they were doing should be able to do it in a week.

This is basic bread-and-butter programming. By the end of October, there will probably be a half-dozen third-party utilities that enable Microsoft Office users to read and write to OpenDocument.

By years end, if every office application in the world with more than a handful of users cant read and write to OpenDocument, Ill be amazed.

OpenDocument is here to stay. Microsoft can either gracefully accept and support it, or fight a losing battle against it.

Do us a favor, Microsoft: Learn to deal with competition again. It will be good for your products in the long run. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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