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Mailbag part deux: Reader opinions on the Microsoft/OpenDocument controversy

Jan 18, 20063 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinux

* Microsoft vs. OpenDocument

While it’s hard to top reports on Linux vs. Windows studies as fodder for debate, last week’s other newsletter on the resignation of the CIO for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts drew numerous comments as well.

The state’s CIO Peter Quinn stepped down in December over flap surrounding the state’s plan to move away from proprietary document (i.e. Microsoft) to the open source, XML-based OpenDocument format. Readers took exception not so much to the circumstances of Quinn’s departure – which are a bit varied and muddled – but the central issue of what they describe as Microsoft’s penchant for proprietary document formats, and its business practices of promoting closed formats.

“[Microsoft] has not offered to open any of its existing document format,” one reader says. “So the only way to reach open formats is to buy yet another version of [Microsoft] software. [Microsoft’s] way to migrate the body of existing document files to an open standard will be to open and then perform the ‘save as’ operation on each of them. Don’t expect MS to help automate that operation, as that would make migration to another office suite easier.”

Another reader points out the dangers of proprietary document formats, even for Microsoft’s own applications.

“It may seem far out to suggest that [using future versions of] MS Office software to open today’s documents might one day be hard to come by,” this reader says. “But have you tried to open a MS Word 2.0 document lately? Even after you get it off the 5.25-inch floppy, today’s Microsoft Word will not open it. Microsoft offers an add-on to Word 6.0 that would open Word 2.0 files, but even if you do have a copy of Word 6.0 (which came on 12 three-and-a-half inch floppies) who has a copy of that add-on?”

Another reader floats this larger-world view of the role of Microsoft software in government organizations: “As an American taxpayer, I do not think that any amount of taxpayer money from any level of government should be spent on Microsoft products as long as Microsoft continues to act as a censorship agent of Communist China,” this reader says. “Beyond their flagrant copyright violations, Communist China has a well-documented and ongoing record of human rights violations – torturing and executing even young children. As long as Microsoft continues to conspire with Communist China to censor words like ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ and removes blogs at the request of Communist China, Microsoft should be banned from doing business with any level of government in the U.S.”