01 September 2005

Hopefully open? What turkey would trust GreedyMegaCorp Inc on that one?

Here, we discover that “Adam Jansen, a digital archivist for the state of Washington [...] and his IT team completed a three-year [USD$1.5M] project to create an open-systems-based archive management center for the state of Washington”.

So far so good. But then we discover that “Washington spent US$1 million more on a joint development project with Microsoft, which is helping the state create what it hopes will become an open format” — the glinga-a-ling-a-ling of alarm bells start sounding — and “Jansen says he is considering using Microsoft’s Office 12 and its new XML-based file format as a standard archiving format in the future”.

OK, so how many joint development programs has Microsoft run? And how many of them have resulted in truly open standards, vs how many of them have wound up either with a patent millstone around their necks, delayed until they’re obsolescent, or “adopted” and violated?

Consider that right now, Microsoft is stalling the TPM standards for all they’re worth until Longhorn Shorthorn Vista Windows 2006 (whatever it’s finally called) is released, so that they don’t have to make it comply [and if you’re planning on using it, dwell on what the panic to get it out the door will do to quality and reliability]. Consider that MS-Office’s “open” XML document formats contain arbitrary Microsoft-specific binary junk. Look back on what MS-FrontPage (and MS-Word) did to HTML.

Phrases like “butterfly in a blast furnace” come to mind when considering the chances of an MS-spawned format ever being truly open. One also has to wonder what other Microsoft-specific tarpittage those quasi-XML files are wrapped in.

Right now, today, the OASIS document format is available, does everything (useful) that Microsoft’s bastard child of sin does, and is completely, truly open and unencumbered.

If I suckered the Western Australian government into an archival project based on handing control over to a proprietary file format beclonging to a rich and notoriously greedy and controlling corporation that said corporation “hoped” would one day become a standard, somebody would be politically hung, drawn and quartered for it. Why should Washington be any different?

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