Linux News Discredits Heartland Institute's OpenDocument Report

Posted by dcparris on May 20, 2006 7:03 AM EDT
LXer; By DC Parris
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  LXer Feature: 20-May-06

LXer's Don Parris called into question the so-called "research" presented in an article by Steven Titch, a senior fellow at Heartland Institute, regarding the OpenDocument decision in Massachusetts. What follows is his letter to Titch, with the article referenced and linked.

Dir sir,



With respect to your article The Dangers of Dictating Procurement, I can only say that I am utterly appalled by the gross misinformation presented in your article.



First, you state:
"Unlike proprietary software, such as Microsoft Office, Intuit Quicken, and Adobe Illustrator, open source software exists in the public domain. It carries no copyright and no license fee and can be acquired for free, usually through an Internet download. Open source’s low-cost, communitarian nature has made it popular with the tech elite."



Free and Open Source Software do not exist in the public domain. They are copyrighted programs released under license terms that are simply more permissive than non-free licenses. In fact, these licenses depend on copyright. The GNU General Public License is a copyleft license that essentially turns copyright on its ears. However, copyright is its very strength. The code is "owned" by the author, and is thus proprietary in that respect.



Ed.: This statement alone very nearly discredits the entire report because it calls into question the ability of Heartland Institute to perform even the most basic research. In fact, once I saw this statement, I forgot all about their reference to OpenDocument as an "open source software format".



You go on to say:
"The strengths and weaknesses of OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office make for great debate in IT circles--a debate Quinn stifled with his sweeping mandate."

Yet, nowhere does your article suggest that Microsoft has had opportunities all along to participate in and even adopt the OpenDocument Format. Such an omission leaves one the impression that Microsoft is some kind of victim of Peter Quinn. The reality is that they chose not to meet their customer's requirement, thus locking themselves out. That is Microsoft's choice, not Massachussets' (or Quinn's, for that matter). Your whole article misses the point that Microsoft can and SHOULD support OpenDocument. Had they done so in the beginning, you would be writing another, hopefully more accurate article about something else. This does not have to be about FOSS vs Microsoft. It can be about FOSS collaborating with Microsoft (or vice-versa). However, Microsoft is to bull-headed to see that.



Implementing OpenDocument support within Microsoft Office would have cost Microsoft nothing but the time it takes to implement a well-documented, open standard. That would give their customers a choice as to which format they want to use. It should be obvious that Microsoft has no interest in offering customers any choice but their own. Alas, that's what happens when you run a criminally monopolistic enterprise.



Your article further ignores the fact that OpenDocument is already supported by other office programs, all of which run on multiple OS platforms, and is being implemented in still more office programs.



Again, you point out:
"The Massachusetts law tilts state procurement heavily toward vendors like IBM without any guarantee of savings or tangible user benefits."



This notion has been argued and challenged in more than adequate terms from several quarters. In fact, the whole "FOSS is not free" argument is so old and hashed over, it's not really funny. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer even acknowledged that FOSS solutions were beating Microsoft out on cost, that their marketing FUD was just that. What's more, anyone with the most basic understanding the Free Software Movement would know that it has never been about money. In fact, Richard Stallman has always promoted the idea that people should (re-)distribute Free Software for a fee.



One of your most inaccurate statements:

"The sweeping, pre-emptive policy devised by the former Massachusetts CIO, unfortunately, prevented any of the state’s other IT decision-makers from making any long-term evaluation, and dangerously assumes the open source path will always be less expensive and more user-friendly."



IBM's workplace, which supports OpenDocument, is non-free (most say proprietary), as I recall. Quinn's decision actually supports allowing any business to compete in Massachusetts - including Microsoft. Hello? Is anyone listening? Microsoft can compete using an OPEN STANDARD. That they seem so obstinate in this regard is to their own detriment, not that of the state, or of their competitors.



At least you got this correct:
"The key procurement choice is whether the state’s IT organization will commit to a long-term product path with companies like Microsoft, or a long-term consulting path with companies like IBM. Both paths carry inherent costs, which may differ from department to department."



Ed.: This was the most accurate statement I could find in the whole report. It is still problematic in that it ignores the other stakeholders, notably Sun. In other words, the reader is left with a choice between two monopolists, rather than a field of competitors.



I highly recommend that you actually do some research before producing such articles in the future. How you got out of college with work like this is beyond me. That you are a senior fellow of a research institute is absolutely amazing.



You should be aware that I am posting my response to your article on our news site. You will likely hear from a few of our readers.




Editor's Note:   Although I have found no direct relationship between Microsoft and Heartland Institute in a very brief search, it is apparent that their "research" favors Microsoft. A quick Google search did turn up some interesting leads, including more references to the integrity of their research. Additionally, one of our readers has already posted a link to what SourceWatch has to say about them.

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Should Microsoft support OpenDocument? NO! luvr 7 1,729 May 22, 2006 3:13 AM
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