Freely Activist Responds to Fox News Article

Posted by dcparris on Oct 3, 2005 9:34 PM
LXer; By DC Parris

If Fox News offers an opportunity for an opposition viewpoint to James Prendergasts' article, "Massachusetts Should Close Down OpenDocument" this would be one response.

Following on the heels of my letter to the Editor at the Minnesota Daily, pointing out the University's waste of $2.7 million for cheap Microsoft Office licenses, when they could have kept their money and given students OpenOffice.org (or other office suites), I sent off this letter in response to Prendergast's article on Fox News:

Mr. Prendergrast comments - "Worse, the policy represents an attack on market-based competition, which in turn will hurt innovation. The state has a disaster in the making." This is an appalling statement. Given that Microsoft is the only company whose software can fully render Microsoft Office documents in all situations, using their closed, proprietary format actually locks out market-based competition. The OpenDocument format is at least as mature as Microsoft's OpenXML format, if not more so, since it is already in use in the OpenOffice.org beta release (which I currently use). The fact is that, because OpenDocument is an ISO standard, publicly available for all to use and work with, using that format actually promotes market-based competition.

In quoting David Coursey, he suggests that OpenDocument may "not be able to keep up" with Microsoft's format. Why not? With companies such as IBM, Sun, Boeing, and numerous others, I would suggest the format will prove itself in short order. Furthermore, all of these companies will now be able to compete with each other and with Microsoft because the format allows all of them, including Microsoft, to support it. One need only to search Wikipedia to discover a number of applications that either currently support OpenDocument, or will in the near future.

This brings us to another of Prendergast's comments, "They should not be given an arbitrary leg up that shuts out other vendors and forces government agencies to settle on under-performing technologies." Microsoft has at least two options. They can choose to support OpenDocument (adn/or PDF), or they can offer their own format under fully open (libre) terms. Thus, Microsoft is not being shut out, but rather asked, as a vendor, to support the customer's requirement. If they choose not to support it, It would seem likely they will have shut themselves out. Of course, the vendors who have thus far been locked out due to the inability of their software to render Microsoft documents fully (due to Microsoft's anti-competitive practices) will surely relish in their departure.

Mr. Prendergast also worries about migrating to "new technologies". "But for now, the policy simply promises enormous and unnecessary migration costs to Massachusetts’ taxpayers. The mandate forces the entire state government to acquire new technologies, train personnel, and contract for new services and support." First, OpenOffice.org is available at no cost and works similarly enough to Microsoft Office that most people will need little or no training at all, except for the higher-end features. Secondly, Contracting for new services and support could prove to lower the state's overall costs.

Mr Prendergast's article fails to point out that the working poor, who may have had a computer donated to them with the OpenOffice.org application installed, can view documents created by their government. Perhaps he would prefer to force the ecnomically disadvantaged to pay $400 (more than some people make in a week) just to read a document their government makes available on the web. The OpenDocument format makes it possible for any organization to create documents that anyone can read on any platform, thus avoiding the dilemma FEMA created by developing a website usable on with Internet Explorer, an idea that stands in stark contrast to the need for open standards.

I find this article wholly out of balance, and seemingly ignoring the state's argument of sovereignty, namely its right to set or adopt a standard that is usable by its own agencies and the greatest number of its citizens. I find it is more concerned with promoting proprietary technologies, usable only by those that develop or can afford them, than with praising the adoption of an open standard that all vendors, including proprietary software vendors, can choose to support.

I find the arguments are based on woefully inadequate research and understanding. The fact that Microsoft is a founding member of ATL serves only to underscore the ignorance this article displays. Having listened to the MP3 version of the public discussion of this issue, I can attest to the fact that Microsoft seems to have failed miserably to understand (or at least to be willing to support) the state's requirements. I am deeply disturbed that your organization would publish such a biased article without at least offering an opposing view.

Note: ODF is not yet an ISO standard. It is an OASIS standard, which means that ODF could be fastracked through the ISO process. With the broad industry support, that is a very likely scenario.

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