HI Researcher Continues OpenDocument FUD

Posted by grouch on Jun 14, 2006 7:00 AM EDT
LXer Newswire; By DC Parris
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  LXer Feature: 14-Jun-06

Steven Titch, a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute, first drew my attention when I ran across an article he wrote, in which he made so many misleading statements, I called into question his abilities as a researcher. Two blog posts later, Titch still fails to address facts, to present any evidence in support of his arguments, to make any arguments relevant to the issue at hand, contradicts himself... Need I go on? One wonders if he is even in the same ball park.

The Summarized Version

Let's review. First, Titch wrote an article in which he makes some pretty sorry claims, most of which had little to do with the argument at hand, and misled his audience with respect to some crucial facts. After I called into question his credibility as a researcher, and compared his report to Welles-ian fiction, he then blogged that I had failed to address his core argument. I responded that his core argument was a non-issue since no one was arguing about that anyway. Now Titch comes back for yet another embarrassing play - even more embarrassing than Bill Buckner's error.

Here I'll simply summarize my view of Titch's blog. If you want the instant replay, you'll find it below. Suffice it to say that Titch, for all his knowledge of Bill Buckner's error, allows himself to commit the same error. Titch hasn't learned a thing from Buckner - or even his own errors - in this match. If you examine Buckner's overall record, he was an outstanding ball player - even if people never remember anything other than his famous error. Titch, on the other hand, fails to show his mettle as a researcher.

In his blog, Titch continues complaining that the Massachusetts ITD decision is about procurement, despite my specific reference to a direct quote explaining that it was a standards policy - not a procurement policy. He never once demonstrates how the standards policy is really a secret anti-Microsoft procurement policy. In fact, he never demonstrates how the policy is anti-Microsoft. He never explains how the debate is about Microsoft Office vs OpenOffice.org, which is especially absurd in light of the 32 applications that either currently support ODF or will in the near future. Titch continues to argue that the policy is anti-Microsoft in spite of the overwhelming evidence that Microsoft is capable - legally and technologically - of supporting ODF.

Failing any useful facts, Titch resorts to trollish tactics. Having just made a big deal of Microsoft vs OpenOffice.org, he then calls on the "zealots" to focus on the merits of ODF. Even though I have written in my responses how ODF is more mature and more "open" than Microsoft's own XML, Titch never even touched the merits of Microsoft's XML or ODF himself. He never addressed why Microsoft could not have contributed to OpenDocument's development. In fact, he seems to be missing whole portions of the original debate, along with the updates to those issues.

At this point, it no longer even matters whether Steven Titch is intentionally misleading his audience or just incompetent. His credibility as a researcher is a shambles. While I have corrected his errors, backed up my claims with supporting evidence, and refuted his claims soundly and profoundly, he has yet to offer any evidence that he is a competent researcher. In my view, a competent researcher should be able to analyze/discern the core issues, discover and weigh the various facts concerning those core issues, and present evidence/facts to support any arguments he or she may make with respect to those core issues. Yet Titch has attempted to make this debate about an anti-Microsoft stance while accusing the "zealots" of his own behavior. In any forum that's considered trolling.


The Instant Replay

This version is much longer, but is included for those who really want the play-by-play for this last inning of the game.

"As I wrote in "The Dangers of Dictating Procurement", the Massachusetts Information Technology Department (ITD) has made it policy that it will no longer procure software that does not support open standards."

Actually, he mistakenly referred to an "open source software format", not an open standard. Since I called his bluff, readers might be able to better grasp what was mandated. He then claims that the decision knocked Microsoft out of future bidding, but ignores Microsoft's choice not to meet the Commonwealth's request. This crucial fact, which Titch refuses to address, would cost any company their bidding prospects in nearly any scenario.

"That's because a major competitor to Microsoft Office is OpenOffice.org. OpenOffice is open source software that supports an open standard called OpenDocument Format (ODF). It has been incorporated into software products from Microsoft competitors, such as Sun Microsystems StarOffice."

OpenOffice.org is one example. It has also been, or is being, incorporated into at least 32 other office productivity and Internet applications. However, this point is interesting to note because Titch is trying to paint the battle as Microsoft vs the FOSS community. It is also interesting to note that Titch previously claimed that OpenOffice.org was hardly getting any traction at all in the marketplace. Come on, Titch! Which is it? Your readers want to know.

"Today, have a few drinks with an open source geek and he'll tell you, perhaps not in so many words, that while Microsoft's response to the Massachusetts directive was a clumsy swing resulting in a slow grounder to the right side of the infield, the ODF team has Bill Buckner at first base."

I don't know what open source geeks Titch is drinking with, but they must be too busy hacking code to know what's going on in Massachusetts. You see, the OpenDocument Format has already been adopted. Even if Microsoft's format is accepted by Massachusetts, ODF will still be used as well. In fact, some documents will have to be available in ODF since Microsoft's XML format and licensing may not permit other office suites to properly render the binary data included in the schema.

"Much of the controversy about the Massachusetts directive centers on the replacement of Microsoft Office with OpenOffice.org."

O.k., so now Titch just let the ball roll right between his legs. Don't you just hate when that happens? See, instead of keeping to the topic of open standards, Titch is still trying to re-cast the debate in terms of Microsoft Office vs. OpenOffice.org. It is true that many would love to see OpenOffice.org replace Microsoft Office - for a variety of political and technological reasons. It is also true that Microsoft has a vested interest in maintining its monopoly position in the marketplace. Even so, ODF is much bigger than OpenOffice.org. Recall the 32 applications mentioned above currently implementing ODF?

Here's the thing. Titch misses the ball - and not for the first time in this game - that Massachusetts mandated adherence to a standard that Microsoft could have implemented, thus saving all of us the words wasted on a stupid debate about standards. Titch fails to show any evidence at all that the battle is about OpenOffice.org replacing Microsoft Office. Titch never even touches on the fact that Microsoft could have implemented ODF in its office suite. That's because he wants his audience to believe that we're arguing about something that we're not even arguing about.

"Unlike Linux, which is a leaner, more elegant operating system than Windows, especially for servers; or Mozilla Firefox, which has had none of the security problems of Explorer, Office is a strong and popular product. It may be expensive, but users like it."

Frankly, it really seems as if Titch is trying to make up for his failure to do any research at all for his previous articles. To suggest that Microsoft Office is popular is akin to suggesting that mousetraps are popular among mice caught in them. The fact is, there are essentially two reasons people use Microsoft Office:

  • They don't know they have any other choice (often true)
  • They know the choices they have cannot reproduce the documents as effectively as the latest, greatest copy of Microsoft Office.

That last point is the crux of the matter. With a standardized document format, everyone can compete on the same terms while achieving real interoperability - or at least improving it tremendously. This actually increases competition in the marketplace.

Currently, users are enticed into using Office, and since no other office suite can implement the unpublished, non-free document formats as well, they're stuck with the hefty expenses of Office. That goes for governments as well as businesses, non-profits, and individuals. The OpenDocument Format is usable by any office suite, including Microsoft Office. This means that, as long as the office suite implements the OpenDocument Format in a usable way, I can read documents from other users, regardless of what office suite or operating system platform they use.

I have used OpenOffice.org on Windows, SUSE Linux, and Ubuntu Linux with no variation whatsoever in the document from one operating system to another. That would currently work with KOffice and StarOffice as well. I could not try that if I wanted to with Microsoft Office, which only runs on Microsoft Windows. Even when Office 2007 comes out, with the new XML format, I will likely experience problems opening the files, since the Office "Open" XML format specification allows for proprietary, binary data to be included in the documents via a binary data tag. OpenDocument, being strictly XML, is the only way to guarantee another user will be able to read your documents.

"It may be expensive, but users like it. It’s highly debatable whether a state government, which has fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers, should be using its resources and purchasing power to provide the necessary traction for Microsoft competitors that they can’t get in the marketplace."

Titch ignores the monopoly position Microsoft currently holds in the office productivity marketplace, as well as their responsibility to meet the customer's reasonable requirements. One cannot call a few copies of Wordperfect "competition". It is the government's fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers that led the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to ensure that any business, Microsoft included, has the opportunity to compete, based on open standards that any vendor can implement.

It is Microsoft that has a fiduciary responsibility to its investors - and users - to implement open standards, or risk the loss of business that would inevitably result from any vendor's refusal to meet its customer's requirements. Even Titch acknowledges that Massachusetts' requirement is a legitimate one. What he fails to acknowledge is Microsoft's refusal to support the requirement, despite the fact that it could easily do so. Ironically, current Office users would have even less reason to switch vendors if Microsoft supported ODF.

"Had the ITD focused on its specific user requirements, it would have had much stronger case. Instead, it allowed the issue to be hijacked by the rabid anti-Microsoft set, who were not shy about turning the directive into a drive to replace Microsoft at any cost, just to see if it could be done in an IT operation the size of Massachusetts’."

Unless Mr. Titch has any evidence at all to back up such a claim, it can be safely dismissed as more pure fiction. Mr. Titch is obviously not a researcher, but a paid creative writer. Unfortunately, his fiction isn't really all that creative and relies solely on whether one trusts his ability to conduct research. Since Mr. Titch's research has been sorely lacking throughout this debate, one wonders why he bothers with the "senior research fellow" label at all. "Novelist" is much more suitable to his efforts here. His credibility is critical, since he claims to be a researcher from an "independent" spintan..., um, I mean, thinktank.

"This scared lawmakers. Pulling the plug on Microsoft would cost the state millions in the short term for future benefits that were, at best, vague."

Still lacking evidence to refute my previous demonstration of the cost savings that Massachusetts has to look forward to from migrating to ODF-compliant applications, he goes way out on a limb to try to show how everyone revolted at the thought of ODF. Still, once the smoke cleared, guess what? ODF is now an officially sanctioned format in Massachusetts. After review by the ITD, the lawmakers, and others, ODF remains an open standard usable in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The lawmakers could surely have overturned the decision. But they did not. Naturally, Titch passes over that.

"Microsoft has said the ITD policy is anti-competitive because the rule, in essence singles it out alone."

Critics have rightfully dismissed this as whining because Microsoft nor anyone else has proven that the rule singles out anyone. Microsoft was asked to support the same standard that every other vendor - competitor or not - is being asked to support. How does that single them out? Please, someone - anyone - show me some facts pointing to Microsoft being singled out. I'll be happy to weigh your evidence. But no one shows any because there isn't any to show.

"Although ECMA has existed since 1961 and has developed a number a communications, computer language and media standards that have been adopted by the International Standards Organization (ISO), it’s not good enough for some."

Titch goes on to quote a letter from a Sun executive encouraging the Commonwealth to only accept formally defined standards that are implementable by anyone as evidence that the open standards debate is really not about open standards. Ironically, the very quote highlights the importance of open standards. It is interesting that Microsoft has never supported such a standard in the way that Sun does here. Cargill's letter actually argued that Massachusetts should wait until Microsoft's competing format has been formally standardized, as opposed to eagerly accepting empty promises - something for which Microsoft has a well-established reputation.

"Andy Updegrove, a more level-headed open source advocate, in blogging on Open XML, pretty much admits that, open standards or not, the goal of the Massachusetts ODF effort isn’t about choosing what’s best for the state as it is about enforcing a pocket industrial policy."

Titch has a right to raise questions about Updegrove's assessment, but fails to offer any refuting evidence. He never states how Microsoft's XML format will foster competition. Does this mean Titch doesn't know? I have yet to see any evidence that the developers of Abiword, a GPL'ed word processor available for a number of operating systems, will be able to implement the Microsoft XML schema without violating the terms of their own license. Nor is there any indication that Abiword users running a GNU/Linux desktop system will be able to properly render a document created in Microsoft Office on Windows. Yet, this very issue raises questions about the openness of Microsoft's XML schema and license.

"The Massachusetts directive is a bad idea because it intentionally stacks the deck principally on the basis of market share."

Again, Mr. Titch fails to support his argument. There is no evidence in his article to support his thesis that the deck is being stacked against Microsoft. This very claim, as I have demonstrated repeatedly, flies in face of the facts. They were asked to support a standard - the same standard that every other vendor seeking to do business in Massachusetts will have to support. Titch continues to ignore Microsoft's refusal to support OpenDocument. He mentioned it, but never addressed why they refused. He never addressed how Microsoft would be hurt by implementing OpenDocument. In short, he continues to swing at high balls while ignoring the real questions at hand.

"They can make it a discussion about the merits of ODF... or they can continue their wild-eyed crusade against Microsoft."

Say, wasn't it Titch that pitched this debate in terms of Microsoft vs OpenOffice.org? I wish that, just once, Titch would address the merits of ODF. Even though I have done exactly that in at least three articles now, Titch has yet to address a single fact regarding ODF itself. He has yet to argue, let alone demonstrate, that Microsoft's XML format is somehow superior to ODF, or that ODF should be rejected. Instead, he stays in the peripheral of propaganda, an area that has little at all to do with facts or the merits of ODF.

Titch never did say how ITD's decision amounts to a procurement policy. He never refuted in any factual way my previous contention that there was no procurement policy, but a policy of standards. He claimed, but offered no proof, that ditching Microsoft Office would cost taxpayers big bucks. Titch never once offered any information to counter my claim that OpenOffice.org commands a much larger market share than he initially claimed. Titch never refuted my claim that some developers or vendors might be excluded from competing on Microsoft's XML format, due to the licensing issues.

» Read more about: Story Type: Editorial, LXer Features; Groups: Community, Microsoft

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
binary data tags in Open XML mecrider 3 2,061 Jun 16, 2006 8:36 PM
two nits number6x 4 2,280 Jun 15, 2006 7:17 AM
My Comment to Mr. Titch - dinotrac 2 1,977 Jun 14, 2006 5:38 PM
moron jsusanka 3 2,046 Jun 14, 2006 12:11 PM

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