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Microsoft Government Politics

A Look At MS's MA Talking Points 242

Posted by Zonk
from the deconstruction dept.
tbray writes "It may not be a Halloween Document, but one of the lobby groups in the thick of the Massachusetts office-doc standardization fray passed me 'The Other Side's Talking Points', so I've published (and slightly deconstructed) them with a barnyard-animal picture." From the article: "The direction toward interoperability using XML data standards is clearly a good one. However, limiting the document formats to the OpenOffice format is unnecessary, unfair and gives preferential treatment for specific vendor products, and prohibits others. The proposed approach and process for use of XML data is quite open to multiple standards, yet the proposed standard for documents is quite narrow, preferential, and may not enable optimal use of the data-centric standards."
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A Look At MS's MA Talking Points

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  • by Rick Zeman (15628) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:12PM (#13542648)
    unfair and gives preferential treatment for specific vendor products

    Somehow they never seem to object when, say, the Feds sole-source Microsoft products. Big surprise.
    Let's hope someone throws that back into their faces....
  • Omission? (Score:5, Funny)

    by theRhinoceros (201323) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:13PM (#13542654)
    There are less costly, less limiting, non-preferential policy options to achieve the same goals.

    However, Microsoft is as unsure as you what these options are; they certainly aren't their products.
  • by soma_0806 (893202) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:14PM (#13542660)

    The fact is that choosing ANY file type narrows the field somewhat and whatever type is selected will give preference to someone. It makes the most sense to pick the type that does the least amount of "damage" in both fields.

    Using an "open" format allows the docs to be read by users of pretty much any OS. Also, it gives preference to the open source community, not some corporation looking for nothing beyond profit. Finally, anyone that wants OpenOffice can get it, and for free. No other possiblity would be less narrow or preferential!

    • by Col. Klink (retired) (11632) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:27PM (#13542725)
      Not only that, but Microsoft (or any vendor) are completely free (speech and beer) to implement the doctype that MA selected. MS's idea of an "open" proposal was patent encumbered and not GPL compatible.
    • by T-Ranger (10520) <jeffw&chebucto,ns,ca> on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:33PM (#13542757) Homepage
      The idea of an "open" format isn't that it will get preference to the OSS community. It is that it will give preference to no one.

      The standard in question isnt the "Open Office" format, its "OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications". OO.o 2.0 happens to support that format nativly.

      Anyone, including Microsoft, is free to implement the Open Document format.
    • "The fact is that choosing ANY file type narrows the field somewhat and whatever type is selected will give preference to someone."

      Why? What is preventing MS from being able to read and write OO docs in Office?

      I don't see how you can make the assertion that it will give preference to someone when anybody can implent the document spec.
    • by hey! (33014) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:58PM (#13543192) Homepage Journal
      Using an "open" format allows the docs to be read by users of pretty much any OS. Also, it gives preference to the open source community, not some corporation looking for nothing beyond profit. Finally, anyone that wants OpenOffice can get it, and for free. No other possiblity would be less narrow or preferential!

      Yes, well, the talking point in question is what Mr. Orwell dubbed "Doublespeak". War is peace, fredom is slavery, and a one vendor, secret file format promotes "choice". What's frightening is how often it works.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ...it gives preference to the open source community, not some corporation looking for nothing beyond profit.

      Open formats do not discriminate against corporations attempting to make a profit. Open formats simply compell those companies to compete on the merits. Sure, that's more work than perpetually taxing customers who stuck in a web of proprietary protocols, but ultimately, it's the most capitalist solution of all. Open standards create a free market for software; proprietary solutions do not. Open st
    • There's an old saying that goes something like "Perfection is achieved not when nothing else can be added but when nothing else can be taken away." With respect to the OpenDoc format, making it as simple and generic as possible allows others to use it as a baseline towards interoperability, while simultaneously allowing them to build upon it for their own proprietary formats, which seems like the best of both worlds.
  • Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:14PM (#13542661)
    Microsoft Employees themselves [proudlyserving.com] are saying that open office formats (at least partially, or for old versions) are a good thing. Others are saying [25hoursaday.com] they want to quit soon. Note that this open revolt against their management is being spearheaded by the mysterious Mini-Microsoft [blogspot.com].

    Will these attitudes finally change MSFT from the bottom up, or just get these guys fired? I suspect the latter, but hey, we live in interesting times...
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:2, Funny)

      by e4g4 (533831)
      I think they're more likely to get hired by Google than fired by Microsoft.
  • duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gyratedotorg (545872) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:14PM (#13542662) Homepage

    "limiting the document formats to the OpenOffice format is unnecessary, unfair and gives preferential treatment for specific vendor products, and prohibits others."

    prohibits others? i know this is obvious to everyone here, but the fact that the oasis format is open and fully documented invalidates this argument. there is absolutely no reason why any vendor cant implement the oasis format.

    • Re:duh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rm69990 (885744) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:34PM (#13542763)
      Not only that, but a reason MS gave for not supporting the format is that it doesn't support all of the features of the MS Office XML formats. So they won't add write or read support for OpenDocument.

      I find that really strange, considering MS Office currently has read and write support for plain text and rich text documents. Are they really trying to tell us that plain text documents support more features than OpenDocument documents?

      I call bullshit on that statement. It is an utterly stupid reason for them to give. No one is asking Microsoft to make OpenDocument the default format for Office, but to simply support it, just like they do RTF and TXT files.

      This is simply a case of Microsoft kicking and screaming and throwing a tantrum because someone is telling them to take their lockin schemes and shove it up their ass.
      • Actually if you read the MA specification it says that the office suite must support setting it's default save format to the open document standard. This way they cannot try to force the doc format over the open format.
  • Tim Bray (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:18PM (#13542680)

    For those of you wondering who Tim Bray is or why you should read somebody's weblog, Tim Bray co-created XML [wikipedia.org]. If anybody's fit to speak authoritatively on the subject of XML formats, then it's him.

    • To be fair.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Noksagt (69097) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:43PM (#13542809) Homepage
      Tim Bray is also an employee of Sun, the company who started OO.o [sun.com]. I agree with what he says & am quite sympathetic to the cause, but this is like Scoble saying MA should standardize on MS word format.
      • No that's not fair. Your argument would be like saying windows marketing is just the same as OSS advocacy, when windows is a closed source lock-in product and linux is open source.
  • by Pensacola Tiger (538962) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:18PM (#13542681)
    First, the format is called Open Document, not Open Office. Open Office is the program. Second, Massachusetts is not specifying any particular software, only that any software must read/write Open Document format. Everything, and I mean everything, that Microsoft claims in their so-called talking points is self-serving rubbish. Remember that reaching a compromise with Microsoft is like reaching a compromise with cannibals that they will only eat your right arm.
  • Open Office (Score:4, Insightful)

    by superspaz (902023) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:20PM (#13542689)
    So isn't MA supposed to be providing service to its residents. Let's face it, do you want to be the one who has to train all these government employees how to use OpenOffice.

    Those the change may seem minor to the /. crowd, it is likely to gum up the works for some time in the state of MA. This doesn't even get into explaining to grandparents how to file/read state tax forms online. I think there are going to be a fair number of annoyed taxpayers.

    I like open document types, but I think this is a bad way to try to handle things.
    • Re:Open Office (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JMZorko (150414) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:26PM (#13542720) Homepage

      ... but if it's going to hurt now, won't it hurt even _more_ later? These sorts of arguments don't make sense to me. If changes need to be made, better to make them _sooner_ and minimize the headaches, then make them _later_ and have to deal with even more pain. Anyone who has done software engineering knows that it's easier to refactor earlier than later.

      So, congrats to MA for attempting to refactor, and boo / hiss to MS for trying to stop it.

      Regards,

      John

    • Re:Open Office (Score:2, Insightful)

      by footissimo (869107)
      Its not about openoffice particularly, its about having an open document format so that organisations can choose which office suite they think best suits without being concerned about whether they'll be able to send/receive properly formatted files.
    • Actually the new rules say that Open Formats should be provided in addition to whatever other format of choice is used. But have no fear, the representatives of my state are likely to comply with the wishes of M$ and people like you. Those corrupt bastards are just looking for some backstratching from M$
      • I was going by the orginal form of the text as reported by Forbes.

        The state of Massachusetts is proposing to make all its workers stop using Microsoft's Word, Excel and other desktop software applications and switch to open source software, said the Financial Times.

        The report said OpenDocument, which is used in open source applications like OpenOffice, and PDF, a widely used standard for electronic documents, would be the only software permitted.


        If this has changed, I am sorry. Perhaps you could
    • Re:Open Office (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:24PM (#13543039)
      "Let's face it, do you want to be the one who has to train all these government employees how to use OpenOffice."

      The point of the switch isn't to save money but to support the freedom of information. If commonwealth employees have to be retrained in order to ensure that commonwealth citizens will be able to have access to commonwealth-published documents without being locked into vendor-specific software (or worse, a specific version of said software), so be it.

      The commonwealth is there to to serve the citizenry, not sell software from an out-of-state vendor for the sake of saving a few bucks.
    • Re:Open Office (Score:5, Informative)

      by starfishsystems (834319) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:36PM (#13543077) Homepage
      Let's face it, do you want to be the one who has to train all these government employees how to use OpenOffice.

      Is that a Request for Proposal? Because sure, I'd be happy to make money training people in a technology that empowers them rather than locks them into the products of a single vendor. It's certainly no harder to develop a curriculum for OpenOffice than it is for Microsoft Office, and the benefits are much more enduring.

      In fact, the Government of Ontario contacted me about just this sort of training a couple of weeks ago. Clearly, Massachusetts is not alone in taking this initiative. And as the world moves systematically toward open document formats, I expect there will be many more of these business opportunities coming.

      This doesn't even get into explaining to grandparents how to file/read state tax forms online.

      You mean that Massachusetts is using an online tax form that only works with proprietary software? If true, it seems pretty irresponsible to limit public access to a process which they are required by law to follow. Yes, it will definitely be an improvement to get rid of artifacts like this.

    • Re:Open Office (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iabervon (1971) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:50PM (#13543139) Homepage Journal
      MA isn't going to switch to OpenOffice unless Microsoft forces them to. If MA goes forward with their plans, MS will almost certainly add support to MS Office for OpenDocument. It's not like it's difficult; multiple people have already written MS/OpenDocument converters even without MS's internal documentation. They're only making it sound like MS Office can't support other formats now because they'd rather it didn't. Faced with people actually defecting, they'd change their story.

      As for filing taxes online, you've never been able to read a MA tax form in a Microsoft format; it's all PDF, which MA intends to keep using. Filing forms online is done through one of a number of commercial services, which will deal with whatever format MA wants them in. Forms you can fill out on your computer, print out, and mail in are exclusively in PDF (because that makes the form part reliably identical regardless of where it gets printed out).
  • OpenDocument format (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stevyn (691306) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:21PM (#13542693)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Massachusetts isn't using OpenOffice's format, it's using OpenDocument. This is an open format that OOo just happens to use as well. I understand OOo had a hand in creating it, but it's not "their" format. Here's the wiki link [wikipedia.org] explaining it a little further
    • by Dlugar (124619)
      OpenOffice's format is SXW, not OpenDocument. However, with the most recent version of OpenOffice, they have changed to save by default to OpenDocument (.odt) files rather than their native .sxw files. So the idea that OpenDocument is OpenOffice's is, as Tim Bray doesn't seem to want to say, bullshit.

      Dlugar
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:22PM (#13542703)

    From Groklaw's article [groklaw.net] on the subject:

    "Some may contend that the decision is unfairly dictating a software preference. This is entirely wrong; the guidelines make it clear that any applications need only support an open, unencumbered document format. Your guidelines do not limit any vendor's ability to compete for state business because the required open formats are available equally to all, and participation in their development is equally open to all."
  • Whatever.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:24PM (#13542710)
    However, limiting the document formats to the OpenOffice format is unnecessary, unfair and gives preferential treatment for specific vendor products, and prohibits others.

    Oh please. Am I to understand that Open Office documents are blocked by things like patents, constantly changing specifications, no interoperability between versions, and licensing fees?

    Oh, wait, that's MS Office! Open office standards are open? Free for all to use, if they choose?

    Wow. Go figure.

    All I know is I personally don't CARE what the format is, what's underneath, just friggin' well let it work with all damned Word processors!!!

    RTF, HTML, XML, whatever. JUST MAKE IT WORK!!!
    • All I know is I personally don't CARE what the format is, what's underneath, just friggin' well let it work with all damned Word processors!!!

      Yes, but if a company refuses to support a file format then it means they are being locked out of a market.

      The creepiest thing about all this is that their line of reasoning probably works most of the time.
      • Re:Whatever.... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yuri benjamin (222127)
        Yes, but if a company refuses to support a file format then it means they are being locked out of a market.

        No. If a company refuses to support a file format (which anyone is allowed to implement), then they are locking themselves out of a market.

        If they are prevented from supporting a file format, then they are being locked out -- but in this case no-one is preventing Microsoft from supporting Open Document.
  • From TFA:

    There are practical considerations for conversion of documents in older formats which apparently have not been considered.

    Once again, whoever wrote this had a lot of nerve accusing Massachusetts of failing to consider obvious issues. Let me tell a little story. A couple of months ago, I bought my Mom a new Macintosh, and also Microsoft Office for the Mac. We transferred her files over from her old Windows computer, but Office wouldn't open a bunch of them. That was OK, I went and got NeoOff

    • Re:Hidden costs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RatBastard (949) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:51PM (#13542847) Homepage
      I've been doing Customer Support for various sized organizations through the releases of Office 97, Office 2000, Office XP (2002) and Office 2003, and every time there is a new release there are documents that break. Excel spreadsheets and Access databases (hahahahaha!) are the worst offenders, breaking with almost every release. A lot of employee time gets eaten up fixing these corrupted files every cycle. Does MS reimburse us for the time wasted? Nope. We PAY Microsoft for the priviledge of dealing with broken documents.

      Moving to an open document format would stop most of this from happenning. It would also remove the only barrier keeping WordPerfect, or the Mac or Linux, out of the office environment: document interchange.
      • I doubt it would keep most of it from happening, nor would it remove the only barrier.

        First, this sort of assumes that software will never be rewritten, that new features will never be added, and the file format never extended. Second, it assumes that every program that can read the file format can render it correctly.

        Rewrite the software, and documents that depends on a certain visual rendition of the file format will break, i.e. not look like they used to. HTML and CSS are open "standards" too, but EV

  • by totro2 (758083) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:44PM (#13542814)
    Openoffice comes with a wizard to do mass conversions. It can recursively sweep through a file structure, creating a .sxw file every time a .doc file is encountered (keeping the same name). So this strengthens the point made by the author of the article:

    "Unless the cost of conversion right now is awfully damn high, this sounds like a good investment."

    To find this insanely under-hyped feature:

    File -> AutoPilot -> Document Converter

    If your file server has enough room for a bunch of new .sxw files for every .doc file, why not give give it a test on some smaller portion of your folder tree.

    Then you can all easily see how good OpenOffice is in it's conversions on your existing data RIGHT NOW, and everyone can learn firsthand how realistic a switch to OpenOffice REALLY is.

    Aren't you dying to know first hand if it's actually just that easy and we can all quit theorizing about how viable this whole thing is?
    • Sheesh.

      1: Microsoft Word can do much the same thing. No, really. Go to a place with a bunch of files that MS can open, install the latest version of Office, and look in the templates & wizards.

      2: The price of conversion is in the checking. It's trivial to convert a file from one format to another. It's non-trivial to check both files to ensure that no information was lost.
      • by Forbman (794277) on Monday September 12, 2005 @10:20PM (#13543347)
        #1 is almost a red herring.
        Not all of the documents will be checked. The critical ones (i.e., current rules, policies, public documents) will be checked, of course.

        Others that most of the users think will be tough to convert will actually convert quite well, because 99% of Word users do not use styles, really know much about using fieldcodes or embed/link to parts of other Office documents via OLE, and a few more might actually use tables meaningfully. So the big problem here then becomes how badly does OO mangle any typeface conversions w.r.t. layout-by-whitespace, especially with regards to forms.

        Instead of linking to other Office docs, it's generally just easier and more meaningful to copy-and-paste the information, and it's far easier to distribute that way, because it avoids the "F9 to refresh/can't find parent document" scenario. Especially if you've got a chunk of data that you really want to span a page break (OLE link container cannot span page breaks).

        The poweruser spreadsheets might also not convert well, especially if they use user-written VBA functions or add-ins. But that won't be too many XLS files, either.

        The rest will be checked when they're opened or when someone tells them there is a problem with them, and at some point, old documents might even just be left as-is.

        But, really, #2 is going to be a red herring anyways, because it can be of concern whenever a new version of Office is released as well.

        Access databases? Well... The data should be in a server RDBMS (even if it's on a workstation) anyways. Postgres could fill in nicely. Front-end? There are ways around that (even use OO's spreadsheet to do the front-end). This is one tool that will require probably a suprising amount of developer time, but there's always just linking to the data via ODBC, and keeping the front-end part. The data should not be in MDB files, though (this is good Access design practice anyways. move data to separate MDB/RDBMS ).

        • I should add, I just helped with this for Office 2K->Office 2K3. Not as big of a deal as the upgrade to Office 95 was, though (that seriously had some conversion issues with Word 6.x->Word 95 and Word 2.0->Word 95, and then you had the occaisional Excel 5.0/95 "fat files" too - Excel 5.0 and Excel 95 parts were stored in same file in two different Compound Doc areas...think Mac's fat binaries).

          Still, nothing like converting a spreadsheet app to Excel 2000, which was imported into Excel 95 from the
  • by Feneric (765069) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:52PM (#13542854) Homepage

    Massachusetts has been going down this road a long time; it's not just something that appeared out of nowhere and they've already done some work weighing the various options. I don't think MS is going to be able to change things with FUD this late in the game.

    It's worth noting that parts of Massachusetts have already changed over. Saugus [saugus.net] started going this route some years ago; you can see Saugus' official response to the state's announcement [saugus.net] or my entry in the Saugus blog discussing the same [livejournal.com].

    Saugus has been pushing free and open software [saugus.net] since the mid to late '90s. Massachusetts developed an "open source trough" for use by all state departments a couple of years back. Switching to open formats is just a natural step along the path that Massachusetts has been heading for quite some time now.

    • by aaronl (43811)
      Saugus isn't the only municipality in MA to be in the process of converting away from MS Office to open formats. The delay of the OO.o 2.0 release is what's holding back this from becoming more common. Once that release is out in the wild, expect to hear about a few more towns converting.

      I'm converting the town I work for to systems that aren't plagued by vendor lock-in. We're not just moving to open document formats, but trying to avoid any form of vendor lock-in at all! We want to be able to jump to a
  • Easy to understand (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:53PM (#13542858)
    Simply replace "Open Document Format" with ASCII and you will see clearly how rediculous the argument is from Microsoft. I know the analogy isn't perfect. Damn close, though.
  • by putko (753330) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:16PM (#13543002) Homepage Journal
    Ballmer: Just tell me it's not Open Office. It's not Open Office, is it?

    Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Yes.

    (chair flies through air) CRASH....

    Ballmer: I WILL KILL MOTHERFUCING OPEN OFFICE! WordPerfect tried to get me, but I fucked them one good. I will fucking kill Open Office.

  • Umm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Takumi2501 (728347) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:22PM (#13543032)
    Somebody at one of those associations knows somebody who's on a mailing list with me and thus I got these talking points; I can't say for sure who wrote them, but I can guess. Let's give them a look, then walk through point by point.

    Yep, nothing like first-hand information. So now, I've read this from a guy who posted an article based on information he got from a guy on a mailing list who knows a guy... I'm confused already.

    I see that Microsoft reported 7.915 billion profit on $11.013 billion in revenues for "Information Worker" products (i.e. Office).

    . . .

    But (see previous discussion) there will also be some pay-offs; you take the pain now or you support a 72% profit margin forever.


    This is rather trivial, but I should point out that profit margin is calculated as profit/cost (cost to the producer, not the consumer). The cost to the producer (Microsoft) would be their $10.013 billion in revenues, minus their $7.915 billion profit.

    This makes for a profit margin of 255%. In other words, they're getting back more than 2-1/2x what their paying in. Not a bad return on investment, if you ask me.
    • Margin is profit/sales.

      Markup is profit/cost.

      ex. $1 items sells for $1.50. Margin is 0.50/1.50, or 33%. Markup is 0.50/1.00, or 50%. One cannot have a margin of more than 100%.

      The original statement, that MS had a 72% margin, is correct.

      This is high school business stuff.

  • Longivity (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    MA was there 100 years ago and most likely will be around 100 years from now. What about Microsoft?
    • I think MA has been around almost 400 years. Remember the Pilgrims, Plymouth, in 1620? They have already been around longer tham M$ will ever be.
  • A modest proposal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:41PM (#13543093)
    Why don't major buyers like MA just specify that all software where file portability is an issue (documents, spreadsheets, etc) save their files in a format that is a published specification that has no licensing fees for competitors???

    I don't care if MS owns the spec for my document files as long as all competing products can open/save my files like they were native to that application.

    IMHO portability is the most important issue here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:57PM (#13543184)
    David Wheeler on why opendoc won: link [dwheeler.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Look, the OO file standard is open! Nothing is keeping MS from supporting it. Let's face it; whatever esoteric shit that they claim that the OO XML format doesn't support is probably nothing that normal users would run into anyway. Add a new import/export filter to MS Office to support the OO format. And, if MS Office is as great as they say it is, there would be way more people that would use it instead of Open Office; they would just read/save their work in something other than the native MS Office format
  • For a second, I picture Bill Gates as the evil, wealthy fat man with hat and moustache, selling equipment to farmers.

    The farmers say: "We're tired of your lies. We're tired of you forcing us to pay fees for using your equipment. We want to use our own equipment."

    "Hah, you must be joking... I have good relations with the industry, you couldn't even pass a quality test!" (curls moustache while talking and grinning)

    Is it just me, or has anybody thought of this image, too?
  • by cpu_fusion (705735) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @12:36AM (#13544254)
    Every time you post an article like this, Ballmer kills a chair.

    Please, think of the chairs!

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