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09/30/2005 Archived Entry: "Massachusetts and Open Document Format"

As a libertarian with an aversion to all things governmental, I'm in something of a quandry about how to respond when a state does something sensible. It's like pulling teeth for me to praise a government agency for anything, but I have to credit Massachusetts for a good decision in adopting an Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard for all their files. Businesses and individuals should do likewise.

This is for solid business reasons.

How many times have you ever received a document from someone else that you couldn't open? (Ever get a Word 2000 document when you have Word 97?) How often have you had to read archived documents in an old format? (Like that old WordStar 5 document from the days of DOS.) How do you know that you'll be able to read today's documents in the future?

You need to be able to share your documents with other people. Ten years from now, you need to be able to read today's documents. You might even need to be able to read documents under multiple operating systems. (Think Mac, or Linux.)

I've written before about how Microsoft wants to lock users like you into proprietary formats, so that you can't use competing software. And how Microsoft wants to charge recurring fees for their software...and disable access to your documents if you don't pay up. And how they intend to prevent competitors from reading those documents.

If you save your documents in a proprietary format, you're going to be screwed.

Microsoft's reaction to the Massachusetts proposal has been illuminating. Their PR flacks have been wailing about how Microsoft has been "excluded" from this market and how this is anti-competitive and anti-free-market and so on.


All Massachusetts has done is say that new office software needs to support the Open Document Format. That's an open, unencumbered standard which anyone is free to use. OpenOffice and Koffice support it; Microsoft could easily add it to Office 12's supported file formats. There are no technical or licensing hurdles. Microsoft simply refuses to do so.

It's their marketing strategy. Microsoft wants to lock you into their proprietary format, and block all competitors from supporting those formats. Supporting ODF would demolish that strategy.

So, my compliments to Massachusetts for a sensible business decision. They'll get cheaper software by increasing their range of potential vendors, they'll be able to migrate more easily (and inexpensively) in the future, and their documents will be more accessible to their constituents.

If you're not following their example, it's time to start. "You take the pain now or you support a 72% profit margin forever."


P.S. More commentary on the Massachusetts decision, from Groklaw:
"Answering David Coursey on Massachusetts and Openness"
"Comments on the Massachusetts Decision"
"FOX's Anti-MASS FUD is a Dud"

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