back to article Massachusetts kowtows to Microsoft

Massachusetts is back on the Microsoft bandwagon. Nearly two years ago, the US state unveiled a policy that required its agencies to abandon Microsoft's Office applications in favor of apps that use "open" standards, such as the OpenDocument format (ODF). Now, the state's Information Technology Division has released a draft …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Cyfaill

    Microsoft is Microsoft, watch your backside.

    Until and unless people in government positions actually learn something about technical specifications and the ramifications of what those choices mean to society in the long term, then really poor choices like this will occur. Additionally given the unmitigated power and pure corruption of purpose that really lies at the ruthless heart of Microsoft (to be expected), then the ability of any state government to resist that evil, delivered with the kind of force that Microsoft is willing to use, requires people in government to have the backbone equal to the task... which they don't.

    ODF is/was a light at the end of a very long tunnel, it actually is OPEN.

    The deceit propagated by Microsoft with its pure lock-in file formats serve but one purpose... serving power to Microsoft at the expense of the human communication efficiency and freedom of choice.

    Only a highly educated population can have the knowledge required to manage a technological democracy...

    Allowing a system such as OOXML to take hold in a standard focused on "openness" demonstrates that the population in government is not there... and not ready, willing or able.

  2. OpenSorce Phreak

    Seeing red....

    Am I the only one that is disturbed that one of the few government departments in the US that actually MANDATED open source requirements has "folded under pressure from Microsoft" to consider their software again? I can just picture the conversation now... "Hmm... well, we have 99.9% of the govt. markets, but there's one holding out... what? They want ODF support??? Well, then have one of the script kiddies downstairs scratch together an 'add-on converter' and then call it a 'feature'..."

  3. yeah, right.


    "Let me bend over so you too can violate me" says Massachusetts. It's a sad day when enough people believe the FUD and lies about the utterly non-open "standard" proposed by Microsoft and rubber stamped by ECMA. For starters, the MS OOXML requires knowledge of proprietary, undocumented interfaces to be implemented. Not very "open" of them. So yet again, Microsoft wins in their "embrace, extend, corrupt" campaign.

    Politicians really are too stupid to live. Still, Ubersoft will have a good week with this one.

  4. Don Mitchell


    "bowing to pressure" -- in other words the author disagrees with what Massachusetts did because he dislikes Microsoft.

    Why should Microsoft be excluded from having an open format? The whole issue is ridiculous, because anyone is free to read and write their original .doc format. Hundreds of applications do it all the time.

    Keep in mind, Microsoft has spent years developing their office software, doing research, user studies, programming and testing. But Open Office and ODF were derived by simply looking at Microsoft's feature set and formats. It's bad enough that MS Office gets reverse engineered, but it's absurd to actually turn around and outlaw Microsoft's applications in favor of the open-source products that were copied from it.

  5. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Pressured? Don Mitchell are you real?

    Don Mitchell are you real? You sound like you're an advertisers dream, believing *everything* that you're told in an advert...

    Here's the facts:

    * The MS OOXML "format" is not open in any way other than name. Yes, the basic structure of it is fairly standard XML (in the usual MS botched XML form), however to actually access documents with all the features and metadata in requires access to closed, proprietry binary data streams that are NOT documented at all. How is this an "open" format? The answer is, it's not.

    * The MS word format is laughably convoluted and purposefully broken between versions because MS created it this way in order to break compatibility between their emerging monopoly on desktop applications and all other software suites that were available at the time. It's not been fully decoded and interoperated with by any stretch. The format exists purely to keep lock in with their products, nothing else. At the time of this, other (many but no all) software manufacturer's document formats were detailed and documented so there was no lock in, as was required by various forward thinking agencies at the time. The basis behind this was that even if the software vendor went out of business, because the format was understoon and documented the data would not be lost. Microsoft's approach at this time was to use this available information to allow the importing of other document formats, allow *limited* export to these document formats (conveniently omitting various layout elements in the name of "compatibility") and to keep their MS document format closed. Rumour has it that part of the reason the format was so closed was that MS themselves did not have a full speficiation for it, but this may just be FUD.

    * As for "outlaw Microsoft's applications in favor of the open-source products that were copied from it", are you for real? Do you think for a microsecond that there's anything of any real worthwhile originality in MS Office? It's all been copied from other, previous application suites. In any case, the most important point you've thoroughly missed has is that the mandate to "use open, documented formats" was NOT and never was an instruction to use OpenOffice or any other particular application suite, it was a mandate that the format that the document is stored in was open. There is a huge world of difference between this and specifying the application that must be used. MS could easily have used the ODF format, however chose not to and instead decided to continue with the document format lock-in policy. From a business point of view, it's a fairly easy decision to make from MS's point of view - lose your stranglehold on office applications by embracing an open document format or maintain lock-in and therefore a trapped market?

  6. Steven Hewittt

    Can't win

    They have closed binary .doc file - MS get slated. They then create an open spec (which is actually much better - so lightweight compared to .doc) and get it rubber stamped by an independant organisation - MS get slated.

    What wrong with some of the OSS crew? Yeah, MS is a business so they lobby governments. If there's some free or cheaper OSS alternative that also supports OOXML then why not compete by creating an OSS office package that supports OOXML?

    Why - because MS actually do produce so bloody good software for the desktop. Office and Windows are flagship products. Now Office uses an open standard people are still slating them.

    They can't win.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes Don... Pressured

    Microsoft have discontinued the .doc (and .xml etc) format - so whats the point of using those as an "open" standard.

    Their new "standard" is what they call "open" Office XML. If you read the specs for OOXML (not that I would recommend it as it contains over 6000 pages) you will find that it refers to things like "formatlikeword95". It also uses non standard formats for dates - there two ways to represent the date - one of them representing dates between 1900 and 20000 and another one to represent dates between 1904 and 20000 where the second one is a complete subset of the first one! It also propogates for enternity the fact that Microsoft don't understand leap years as they have a different number of days in Feb 1900 than the rest of the world.

    There are lots of references with OOMXL that refer to closed, Microsoft generated proprietary formats for which no documentation is available.

    It would also seem that Microsoft themselves have already deviated from the EMCA published proposed "standard"... which is typical of Redmond.

    Ask yourself - how can a published open standard make reference to closed, unpublished specifications and how can the developers of that standard, before its even made it through the ISO review have deviated from it.

    The length of the specification (6000 pages) and the short length of time people were given to properly review it is one of the reasons people are not happy with Microsoft's proposals. The other is that Microsoft are/were part of OASIS and could have taken part in the discussions over ODF but flatly refused to get involved.

    No-one is "outlawing" Microsoft applications - they are simply stating that they want to save their documents in an open format that can be read by anyone at any time and not have to keep converting them or end up locked into a supposedly "open" format that isn't.

  8. Stuart Van Onselen


    Cyfaill said

    "Until and unless people in government positions actually learn something about technical specifications..."


    "requires people in government to have the backbone equal to the task... which they don't."

    I agree, but my only quibble is that you assume that government is merely ignorant and/or spineless. But you missed another possibility - That government is just as corrupt as Microsoft. There may very well be legal, quasi-legal, and downright illegal payoffs involved as well.

    Of course, "stupid" and "spineless" probably do play a very large role as well...

  9. Mike Banahan

    What's wrong with the OSS crowd?

    Perhaps it’s because some of us actually care about quality. Weird and perverse I know — but if you would like to know some of what's wrong with OOXML then a good place to start is the outcome of the British Standards Institute review panel.

    The work is being collated on a wiki at

    for everyone to see. Further material is to be found at

    And these only address technical deficiencies in the proposal, not the big question of why, when they knew it existed, Microsoft didn’t propose a version 2 of the ODF standard that incorporated ODF as a proper subset.

    Interestingly, it’s probably impossible for anyone to conform to the current ECMA document (I can’t bring myself to call it a “standard”) since it is internally inconsistent and at present it would appear that some 10% of the examples of XML it quotes are invalid.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Well there's a problem with that, Steven

    It's that OOXML is based on Microsoft's XML, as stated above, and that is a broken implementation. On top of that, and I quote, again from above, "to actually access documents ... requires access to closed, proprietry binary data streams that are NOT documented at all"

    So tell me, Steve, how do you go about creating compatibility with a closed, proprietary data format without getting sued for violating the DMCA ? You know, that law that was made so that big corporations could specifically ground to dust anyone who actually had the gall to make something

    On top of that, the "OSS crew" as you name them, _have_ done something : they've created ODF, an open standard freely available to anyone. Why doesn't Microsoft simply create an adapter for Word that writes to ODF ? What is the issue with that ?

    More importantly, why is it that politicians don't have the balls to ever stick to their guns, and the only time they do, it's a dropout draft dodger sticking to the wrong gun ?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do you think...

    ... the Massachusetts legislature decided so quickly to support the Microsoft line? Was this due to:

    1. The strength of Microsoft's technical arguments?

    2. The high quality of Microsoft's schmoozing?

    3. The substantial budget allocated by Microsoft?


    "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe when the legislature is in session".

    - Gideon J. Tucker, 1860

  12. Hugh_Pym

    Bit more backgroud required?

    "Little more than four months later Quinn resigned his post: his successor, Louis Gutierrez, stayed in the job less than a year. Now, under interim CIO Bethann Pepoli, the state has reversed its stance."

    Where these people really pressured out of their jobs by Microsoft's 'lobbying'? Is there still no full time CIO? Why? doesn't anyone want the job? Did the interim CIO (i.e. not necessarily passed as competent by the relevant committee) reverse the decision of the previous (qualified?) incumbents?

    Surly this real story here is about who has the real power in the state, the voters or the money. After Bush decided override the US legal system for his best mate Scooter I don't think there is much credibility left in US legislature.

  13. Alan Donaly

    great just great

    so if the real world wants to send a document it has

    to send it snail mail on paper because as long as MS

    runs the document show no one will be able to see

    documents written by other programs or Word of a

    different version typical. We can go on converting badly

    to pdf but thats not always the answer either better start

    using online docs that way everyone can see and edit

    that needs to.

  14. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Completeness and compliance

    On the issue of "undocumented parts", the IETF won't accept an RFC as a standard unless the proponents can show independent inter-operable implementations. This is to ensure that the standard is complete and unambiguous. Massachusetts should have insisted on the same.

    On the matter of MS already deviating from OOXML, this is easy to deal with. If they can't read and write documents that comply with the standard as-written then they fail the compliance test. (I bet no-one checks, though.)

  15. Paul

    Because it isn't as open as the name would suggest

    > They then create an open spec (which is actually much better -

    > so lightweight compared to .doc)

    Wrapping a blob of closed, proprietary, undocumented binary in XML tags and calling it "open" does not an open format make.

    It could be the best, most lightweight document format ever devised, but if it has even _one_ significant undocumented byte, it's not "open", and calling it such is lying. (Nothing new for Microsoft there, then).

    > and get it rubber stamped by an independant organisation

    I think the term you were looking for is "rushed through without due process". If you'd actually been paying attention you might have noticed how suspiciously easy it seemed to be for them.

    > MS get slated

    And deservedly so. As per usual, they're trying to subvert the whole process of "standardization", rushing through something they call "open" which clearly isn't, and lobbying for their "standard" to be used when a better, and truly open alternative already exists. Then they'd subtly alter the "standard", just like they tried to do with Java.

    Only a fool would trust Microsoft to "do the right thing" given their track record. Just ask 3Com founder Bill Metcalfe (who was told by a Microsoft exec that "You made a fatal error, you trusted us.").

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seeing The Light

    While the MS haters would like to believe that other applications are as easy to use and powerful as MS apps, the truth of the matter is that there is just no comparison. Glad to see that the MA govt has finally seen the light and probably improved productivity a great deal as well.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seeing The Light - pity the light is off

    The situation in MA has NOTHING to do with software/applications - it is about file formats. The "its forcing people to use Open Office" stand is just regurgitated Microsoft FUD.

    Micrsoft had a chance to get involved in ODF at the start but they refused and went off and did their own thing.

  18. yeah, right.

    Get real

    Hewitt, Mitchell and others, try actually reading the steaming pile of rat turd called the MS OOXML spec before commenting. I have (much of it anyway, and my brain really, really hurts!! Help me!) and the damn thing is so full of non-reproducible crap it's not a standard, it's a fantasy. For starters, to implement it requires indepth knowledge of undocumented, proprietary formats that MS has NOT made public, nor will ever make public. It is NOT an "open" standard by any stretch of any definition other than Microsofts. It cannot be implemented by an independent party unless they enter into NDA agreements with Microsoft, which is contrary to EVERY definition of "standard" out there. Except, of course, the Microsoft definition of "standard".

    Unfortunately, mush-for-brain idiots continue to believe the Microsoft tripe and come to their defence without actually having any facts at their disposal. Which is par for the course, as the facts point in exactly the opposite direction from where Microsoft wants all the sheep to go.

  19. Gerald Gibson

    Mass would drop off Microsoft Certified Consultants map if they didnt do this

    There are millions of programers that make this countries software. We are trained at using Microsoft technologies as our primary tools. We are not switching to uncommon "open standards" as long as Microsoft is the defacto standard. Mass. would be telling us they dont want us working for them if they kowtowed to the "we hate bill gates for no apparent reason" crowd.

  20. Daniel Ballado-Torres

    Microsoft Certified Consultants?

    There may be Microsoft-trained devels, but there are tons of UNIX-trained devels as well. Actually on the server-side, most companies still use UNIX and show no sign of getting away. The whole pretext of M$ supremacy only applies to end users.

    That said, Open Formats do much more for interoperatibility than Closed ones. Just watch what happens with apps that store data in "propietary DB" systems and how that info is lost when the company decides to switch applications. Open standards are there for a reason...

  21. Rich

    Open enough for me..

    I wrote an app in 2003 that read and wrote Excel spreadsheets using the documented XML format. So the spec must have had enough data. I didn't need to look in any "hidden binary streams".

    A cynic would suggest that Massachusetts desire to push MS alternatives was related to a desire to porkbarrel local software hero Lotus against a distant westcoast competitor. Now that Lotus has been absorbed into IBM and is pretty much out of the office tool market, this requirement no longer exists.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like