Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Politics and Standards

In the past, there have been occasions when I've expressed great pride in my New England heritage (e.g., see The Spirit of New England or A Culture of Standards). But, I'm embarrassed by an amendment to a piece of important Massachusetts legislation passed out of the Senate Ways & Means committee that seems intended purely to entangle with politics a decision by the state's CIO to standardize on OASIS' Open Document Format (ODF) for all Commonwealth of Massachusetts public documents stored after January 1, 2007.

ZDNet's David Berlind reported in Politics and the perversion of standards a word for word transcription of a political hearing that presents a practically made-for-TV story that is perhaps better than any industry drama.

David Berlind does a superlative job of differentiating the nuanced boundaries between standards, software, and licenses, as depicted by the following edited excerpt:
The HyperText Transport Protocol (HTTP, the protocol of the Web) is the open standard that's supported by both Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) and the Apache Software Foundation's Apache Web Server. One -- Apache -- is available under an open source license, the other -- Microsoft's IIS -- is not. Where Massachusetts needs Web servers, the state is free to pick either (or from a bunch of others) and know that, because of how both support the same open Web standard (HTTP) -- either can be used to publish a Web site that anyone in the world can access.

That's exactly how the ODF ecosystem can work to the benefit of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. ODF is like HTTP. Since it's open -- the state would be free to pick from solutions that support it and those solutions can come from Microsoft (just like IIS supports HTTP) or from open source providers like (just like the Apache supports HTTP). Much the same way the licenses to Apache and IIS are irrelevant to their support of HTTP, the licenses to and the licenses to the solutions that can come from Microsoft, Corel, or whoever else decides to support ODF in their products are irrelevant as well.
Personally, I can't understand, nor accept, why Microsoft won't support ODF. Microsoft should compete by building superior products for editing documents. If Microsoft believes its formats are superior, than customers can elect to store their documents in those formats. But, there's no reason why documents edited using Microsoft products cannot be stored based on standardized ODF. Microsoft already supports PDF formats for print-image output. They also support a Microsoft-developed alternative to PDF called the Microsoft Office Document Image Writer. Why can't they do the same with ODF, providing the option of storing documents in either ODF or Microsoft's Office XML Reference Schema?


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