Titch's OpenDocument Straw Man Falls

Posted by dcparris on May 24, 2006 7:05 AM EDT
LXer; By DC Parris
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  LXer Feature: 24-May-06

Steven Titch must be a glutton for embarrassment. First, he writes an article that confuses what few facts it contains. Then, in response to my two articles, one correcting the facts, and the other addressing the difference between fact and fiction, he complains on his blog that I failed to reply to his "central point - that it’s bad policy to mandate open source procurement." He apparently doesn't realize that was exactly the point of my two articles - his central point, which is a straw man, is built on fiction.

Titch's Straw Man

Steven Titch must be a glutton for embarrassment. First, he writes an article that confuses what few facts it contains. Then, in response to my two articles, one correcting the facts, and the other addressing the difference between fact and fiction, he complains on his blog that I failed to reply to his "central point - that it’s bad policy to mandate open source procurement." He apparently doesn't realize that was exactly the point of my two articles - his central point, which is a straw man, is built on fiction.



The Commonwealth of Massachusetts mandated a standardized document storage format implementable by FOSS and non-free software vendors alike. They did not mandate, as he claims, "open source procurement". By using this term, he is attempting to re-frame the debate in terms of FOSS vs non-free software. He thus ignores the fact that, with a freely available, fully documented XML specification, any vendor - including Microsoft - can support the format. This opens the door to increased competition, which in turn, opens the door to reduced costs for customers.



Titch is looking for hard financial data. "Nowhere does Parris say how much Massachusetts is going to save, or gain in economic value, from an open source - which is my big question." I'll assume he means an open source program, since OpenDocument is a document storage format standard. How much Massachusetts will save from adopting a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) application depends on how attractive the pricing on the services offered around it. Interestingly, Andy Updegrove's blog points to the City of Bristol, England, which will save 40% over the next five years by switching from Microsoft Office to Sun StarOffice - including migration, training, etc.



Let's Talk Competition

Again, Titch misses the point. "...but when a state assigns the power of dogma to what is, bottom line, a vendor’s business strategy, it does an immense disservice to its citizens." Massachusetts is not mandating the use of open source software, but rather a freely available document storage format. Since non-free software vendors are able to implement the OpenDocument Format, his central point is moot. The real question is whether Titch understands that point. If so, it would appear rather disingenuous on his part to raise a straw man, knowing the real issue is something else entirely.



Again, Titch argues, "From all signs I think this directive will cost at least as much, and probably more, than a policy that allows state IT administrators to consider all alternatives, including the use of Microsoft software." He never mentions how Microsoft is being prevented from competing - they simply refused to meet the Commonwealth's request. In fact, mandating the use of a standard document format that anyone can implement actually prevents vendor lock-out. Currently, Microsoft has a literal monopoly in the government arena (not to mention pretty much every other arena), with Corel happy to get a few accounts.



In my initial letter to Titch, I wrote, "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." And Titch thought I failed to reply to his central point.



If the Commonwealth had not mandated an open format that allows everyone to compete - including Microsoft's competitors, Microsoft would still be able to keep their competitors effectively locked out of competition. Currently, it is difficult for anyone at all to compete against Microsoft because Microsoft's format is competing with a handicap - it's a patented, undocumented, binary format. And Titch probably doesn't even know that many FOSS developers are still nervous about Microsoft's XML format licensing.



The Elephant In Titch's Room

I'll even take the opportunity to address the "elephant in the room" - uptake of OpenDocument. According to Titch's original article, "There is, however, one big problem with this mandate: Very few users have bothered to download the free software to open and read ODF files. OpenOffice.org is not enjoying the reception Firefox has. This fact alone tells us PC users can discern degrees of value among open source alternatives." Really? You mean it doesn't tell us that OpenOffice.org hasn't made the intense marketing effort that Firefox has? Unfortunately, Titch is out of his league here. He probably wouldn't know that unless he paid attention to the OpenOffice.org community. So, here is a senior research fellow embarrassing himself in his own field of expertise by publishing misinformation from who knows what source.



Titch even misleads with respect to OpenOffice.org's popularity. According to the latest statistics at OpenOffice.org's website, there have been nearly 63 million downloads of OpenOffice.org. Even accounting for duplicity, that's not exactly "dismal". This doesn't count the copies sold on CD or shared among users. OpenOffice.org probably has close to 10% of the total market share. If we add in the users of Sun StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace, I would say the number of OpenDocument users is significant. Additionally, several other applications are still implementing the OpenDocument standard, thus opening the future to an even greater number of users.



Titch's view of OpenDocument adoption is short-sighted. First, Just because something has not yet been widely adopted does not mean that it will not be soon. How will it be received after it finishes the ISO process, which is nearly complete now? Secondly, There is no mandate anywhere that Massachusetts - or any other entity - has to wait for OpenDocument to be widely adopted. If it is a useful format for storing documents, it certainly needs to be weighed on its merits. The Massachusetts ITD must have found that it meets their needs. So, too, will a number of organizations.



The Core Issues

Sadly, Titch doesn't argue whether Microsoft's XML format is actually superior, or offer reasons as to why it might be so - which would be the core issue. Instead, he has chosen to address a non-issue - the right of Microsoft to compete in Massachusetts. He doesn't address whether Microsoft's XML license is open enough to quell developers' concerns. He doesn't address the ability of Excel's format to handle varied implementations of spreadsheet calculations. He does not touch on the accessibility issues. All of these have been and are being addressed. Either he doesn't know that Google is his friend, or he doesn't want his audience to understand the real issues.



Titch can rail about my zeal for freedom (darned right I am), but he has not given a single reason why Massachusetts citizens should feel any remorse for their ITD's decision. He has instead raised misleading arguments for an issue that doesn't exist. In the end, since both document format standards are likely to be adopted, and there is an ODF plug-in for Office, the competition should become a free-for-all. Massachusetts citizens will get to have their cake and eat it too. That probably is pretty dangerous - for some people.



This brings us back to my first two articles. Titch faces a serious credibility problem. He has built up a straw man argument around false information, and missed the core issues of the debate. Either he is unable to discern the central issues at stake in Massachusetts, or he is intentionally confusing the issues. Either he is unable to recognize when someone has refuted his arguments thoroughly, or he is vainly attempting to prop up his straw man. I'll leave that for readers to figure out. Either way, I would have great trouble trusting his opinion on the matter. How's that for bluster?



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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Titch is a shill or.......... smokepole 0 1,278 May 24, 2006 12:58 PM
But it's okay to Dictate Procurement to Parents? acmarsh 1 1,261 May 24, 2006 12:37 PM
You're a mean one, Mr. Titch. dinotrac 1 1,363 May 24, 2006 12:16 PM
numbers don't tell the story jsusanka 1 1,288 May 24, 2006 9:33 AM
Mr. Titch meet IBM's Lotus Notes peragrin 0 1,270 May 24, 2006 8:59 AM
OpenOffice is well known mvermeer 0 1,390 May 24, 2006 8:13 AM

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