Open Document

So Microsoft is working really hard to derail the Massachusetts efforts to adopt a truely open standard for its documents.

Bravely, Massachusetts decided in September to adopt the newly finalized OpenDocument standard for all its office documents, ensuring that the documents will remain readable in the future, and effectively breaking the hold that Microsoft, the proprietary software vendor, currently has on the state.

Of course, Microsoft was seriously scared by this. They moved quickly and decided to release their Office XML file format (will be in the next version of Office) as a ‘standard’ by submitting it to a standards organisation in Geneva, that will take 18 months to publish the specifications. At which point, of course, Microsoft will have made lots of changes to the ‘standard’, which will then take years to get through this standards body, etc. You get the idea – Microsoft controls the ‘standard’, and their software will always implement the latest and greatest, and there is no level playing field for competition.

Also, OpenXML is licensed in such a way that GPL’ed software is not allowed to parse and/or modify documents stored in the format. In addition to that, the specification is patent encumbered, and Microsoft has not issued a blanket, non-descriminatory royalty-free license to anyone wanting to use the format.

Some standard, that, eh?

Compare with Open Document: a published OASIS standard, not patent encumbered, not controlled by any single commercial entity, and truly Free in the broadest sense of the word.

So what does Mr. Yates of Microsoft say? “Competition between standards we believe is a very good thing.”. Even if we ignore the fact that OpenXML doesn’t even qualify as a proper standard, this statement is simply not true.

Honestly. Of course, it’s great for the people when there are competing standards. Didn’t you love it when you couldn’t read or write that DVD-R because your computer had a DVD+R drive? Don’t you love the 19 different memory card standards we have today? Your camera takes one kind of cards, your PDA some other kind, and your spiffy new phone yet another kind! And if you’re old enough to remember VHS versus Betamax versus Video2000… I don’t need to draw a picture. Competition between standards sucks. That’s why we call them ‘standards’, right? Don’t let Microsoft tell you otherwise – statements like these are why one should take anything they say or do with a small mountain of salt.

So, Mr. Yates, please cut the crap. Competition between companies is a very good thing. Competition between standards is a very bad thing. Except, of course, for your company…

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