01 November 2005

Massachusetts: a simple prophecy

Having failed to snow the technical people involved, Microsoft are working hard to snow politicians into believing that some great calamity will arise as a result of the State of Massachusetts electing to exclusively use the OpenDocument standard for all of their documents.

The usual lies about excluding fair competition (the reality being only that Microsoft have been thwarted in their attempts to dominate) and conversion issues (the reality is that future versions of MS-Office will be just as prone to conversion issues; have you tried to open an MS-Word 5.0 document with MS-Word XP?) abound, but the key issue is: will the politicians be fooled enough to overturn the State’s decision?

If the answer is “No”, speculation will then turn to Microsoft’s reaction. In the past, they’ve not been shy to use the courts or powers like the US Trade people (and didn’t the Latino countries just love that little manoeuvre?) to force recalcitrant markets to march to Microsoft tunes, but that is unlikely to be a good option here. So what will they do?

My prognostication is:

They will kick and scream until shortly after it obviously isn’t going to work any more, then they’ll announce that they’ve been reluctantly forced to put an enormous amount of work into supporting OpenDocument in time for MS Office v13. That support will be broken.

There will be subtle differences in their files which will occasionally break OpenOffice, or result in their documents not formatting properly when opened in it. The differences will include metadata which is already covered by the standard, but which they will store differently. Their apps will also read their own version of OpenDocument better than the standard. They will complain that supporting the standard is hard, and that everyone else’s applications are producing broken files. They will (falsely) claim that MS-Office’s native formats don’t have such issues. So far, business as usual.

However, this is an open format, and the exact nature of their tricks will be relatively easy to discover and explain. It will become obvious to anyone of a technical bent that the leopard has not changed his spots, nor the Ethiopian his skin [micro-digression: what’s wrong with leopard spots or melanin-enhanced skin, anyway? I would like some (melanin, not spots) myself]

Microsoft will then raise a big cloud of bulldust around the issue, both to muddy the waters as far as the deliberate nature of their tricks is concerned (antitrust, anyone?) and to generate some primary FUD as regards OpenDocument with a view to frightening off other state offices.

Korea will note this and hastily move to drop all Microsoft products at all levels of government. Other countries may follow suit. Nobody likes to be bullied or snowed.


Tony Fisk said...

Microsoft are working hard to snow politicians into believing that some great calamity will arise

Oh prophet: check out this Groklaw article

Leon Brooks said...

Thanks, Tony. I guess I’ll go and order a big swag of camel-hair and a loom now.