Christians Challenge Microsoft to Support OpenDocument for Disadvantaged
Vision-impaired citizens of Massachusetts have found new allies in their efforts to defend their right of access to public documents. The effort by Microsoft to impose a proprietary, non-standard format for public documents is the threat to such access. Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn recently chose the OASIS OpenDocument and Adobe PDF as standards for public documents instead of Microsoft's incompatible, proprietary XML format. He faces a well-financed political attack for that choice. Joining advocates for the vision-impaired are proponents of free and open standards led by spokesman Don Parris, an ordained minister and libre software advocate.
Microsoft has made the Massachusetts decision to adopt OpenDocument as a standard appear to be one of locking out Microsoft. In reality, it is a rejection of Microsoft's proprietary document format, a format which hampers interoperability and shuts out competing office productivity programs. Parris finds this recasting of Massachusetts' decision disturbing, "Microsoft stated they were railroaded in Massachusetts. The truth is Microsoft has chosen not to support the OpenDocument format (ODF), thus ignoring the needs of Massachusetts' visually-impaired employees. Their unwillingness to support ODF sends the wrong message to visually-impaired people. It says Microsoft doesn't care if visually-impaired people have a need to share documents across office suites running on different operating systems." Currently, Microsoft Office has a monopoly on productivity software adapted to visually impaired users. Their refusal to support ODF effectively bars such users from access to ODF documents.
Unlike Microsoft's proprietary XML format, the OpenDocument format was developed by a consortium of large companies and non-profit organizations to be an open standard that anyone can support. As ZDNet's David Berlind observed, "Compared to OXRS, ODF gives open source developers the latitude to pick whatever open source license they want, which is one reason why it passed Massachusetts' test for openness and why ODF was ultimately selected as a standard format for storing the state's documents." OpenDocument is more mature and more widely tested than Microsoft's own XML format (OXRS or MSXML), which won't be available until MS Office 12 is released sometime in 2006. Meanwhile, OpenDocument has been, or is being, adopted by a number of governments outside the United States. Because OpenDocument can be supported by anyone, Microsoft has the option to support OpenDocument alongside their own proprietary format.
The libre software proponents, consisting mostly of Christian ministers and laymen, consider Microsoft's reaction to Massachusetts' decision appalling. "Rather than meet their customer's requirements, Microsoft is attempting to hold hostage the visually-impaired by not supporting OpenDocument when they could do so with relative ease," said Parris. It is the visually-impaired people who stand to lose the most in Microsoft's fight against OpenDocument in Massachusetts. Visually-impaired people deserve to enjoy the same document sharing capabilities as other people. Lee Dambrosky, a visually-impaired mission worker who has joined with the clergy in their challenge to Microsoft, agrees they should support the OpenDocument format.
The Visually-impaired are not the only ones who will be negatively impacted by the lack of OpenDocument support in Microsoft Office. Low-income people seeking to lift themselves out of their poverty could face extensive difficulty trying to share documents with businesses requiring Microsoft's native document format for compatibility purposes. Low-income users could hardly afford Microsoft Office, the most expensive suite in common use today. OpenDocument gives low-income users, who are more likely to use OpenOffice.org than the costly Microsoft Office, an opportunity to run a powerful office suite to manage their entrepreneurial ventures, or even to work as free-lance writers. Additionally, the failure of government agencies to Adopt OpenDocument as a standard format could be viewed as depriving the less fortunate of their right to equal access to government information. The group of Christians believes it is imperative they speak up for the disadvantaged because many of them don't even realize there is a standard document format that will benefit them.
IBM and Sun Microsystems have been encouraging businesses and other entities to adopt OpenDocument. Vendors of office suites that do support OpenDocument have pledged to add in features that help the visually-impaired. However, until that happens -- or Microsoft supports OpenDocument -- the visually-impaired will lose out on the benefits that OpenDocument offers all users around the globe. The group encourages Microsoft's customers to request support for the OpenDocument format, so everyone can share documents across operating system platforms and office suites. People can visit the OpenDocument Fellowship web site (www.opendocumentfellowship.org) to sign a petition for this purpose.
Oakdale Christian Fellowship
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