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Microsoft Government IT Politics

ODF Threat to Microsoft in US Governments Grows 269

Posted by Zonk
from the cropping-up-everywhere dept.
Tookis writes "Another setback for Microsoft has cropped up in the space of document formats in government organizations. The state of California has introduced a bill to make open document format (ODF) a mandatory requirement in the software used by state agencies. Similar legislation in Texas and Minnesota has added further to the pressure on Microsoft, which is pushing its own proprietary Office Open XML (OOXML) document format in the recently released Office 2007. The bill doesn't specify ODF by name, but instead requires the use of an open XML-based format."
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ODF Threat to Microsoft in US Governments Grows

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2007 @01:21AM (#18234082)
    Microsoft a Threat to ODF
  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday March 05, 2007 @01:29AM (#18234150)

    Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, California... anywhere else? I'm (happily) beginning to lose count!

  • History? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Monday March 05, 2007 @01:31AM (#18234160) Journal
    I think that history will point to the Massachusetts move to require an open format as the watershed moment, where Microsoft's stranglehold on the industry began to falter. Because that poor IT director who lost his job in the noise and tumult pointed out to the world that the Emporor, indeed, was not wearing any clothes. Generations from now, ODF will most likely be the standard for public document archives, and the culture and technicalities of documents drawn from our generation will still be available, thanks to the guts and drive of a single man who (ironically) lost his job for accurately identifying one of the most significant problems of the decade.
  • X(HT)ML+CSS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WasterDave (20047) <davep&zedkep,com> on Monday March 05, 2007 @01:50AM (#18234316)
    I had been thinking that ODF was "obviously" a good thing until I read the rant by Opera's CTO [com.com] about how shit both standards are (a memory dump between angle brackets), and how the correct way would be to go for XHTML with CSS formatting.

    Like, seriously, why not? Have we not been here before, going "so we need to separate content from display" and was not the eventual solution actually rather good. It took ten years or so to get adopted, but nobody is denying that css has made the web a less obnoxious place. There are no technical reasons why it can't be extended to all aspects of "office" publishing/collaboration, and indeed a book has been published using XML+CSS [princexml.com].

    I know that ODF is "here now", and it must be an improvement over Office's internal format ... but I'm concerned that standardising on ODF will come to bite us, the IT industry, in our collective butts sooner rather than later. We need something clear. Obvious. Simple. And from this some genuine innovation will come - remember that?

    Dave
    • Re:X(HT)ML+CSS? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gradedcheese (173758) on Monday March 05, 2007 @02:07AM (#18234410)
      It's not too surprising that the CTO of a web browser company wants us to use XHTML and CSS for this, but that doesn't make it a good idea.

      XHTML and CSS are mainly for representing information in a web browser, they are great for that. Word processing is in many ways a whole different world and it makes sense to have a different format there (though one also defined by XML like XHTML is). Namely, CSS lacks a lot of the physical positioning stuff that a word processor needs, concepts such as page breaks, and so on (some things it does have, but they are generally never implemented and probably aren't enough anyhow).

      XHTML is also meant for people to hand-write, it's a simple markup representing simple text. Word processing is never marked up by hand, the documents can be very complex, and anyone not looking at the source programatically will indeed think that it's a memory dump between angle brackets. That doesn't mean that it's a bad format, it's just not meant to be read that way.

      Really, I don't think XHTML is the solution everywhere and pretty much any format is fine in word processing land as long as its truly open (not in the MS sense) and text-based.
      • by zsau (266209)
        Word processing is never marked up by hand,

        Only by definition. People using HTML or LaTeX are essentially "word processing by hand", particuly so if the intended destination is print, as it usually is with LaTeX and occasionally is for HTML (between the time I switched to Linux and learnt about LaTeX, HTML was basically my only option for doing school assignments; OpenOffice didn't exist yet).

        And even "by definition" basically ignores Word Perfect's "show codes" feature. I doubt anyone uses it anymore, but
      • Actually if you look at Css 2 and 3 you can see that if correctly implemented it would be enough to have a very good word processing storage format, and a compact one even. You got font sizes you got binary embedding you got meta infos for barrier free content you got positional functions which rival those in dtp programs etc... the main problem is, that Css2 is buggily implemented and from Css3 we only see a shadow in the browsers, and most browsers even choke on Css1.
        • by Nurgled (63197)

          Fortunately, the quality of web browser support matters little when we're talking about word processor implementations.

          Word processors would presumably end up supporting a different subset of HTML/CSS to browsers, because their needs are different. For example, "display:none" doesn't make a great deal of sense in a wordprocessor, since if it were honored you wouldn't be able to see nor edit the content inside.

    • Re:X(HT)ML+CSS? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nick.ian.k (987094) on Monday March 05, 2007 @02:10AM (#18234426)
      Lie only ranted about the ridiculousness of going to the trouble to craft new standards, and then suggested that we instead repurpose a set of standards for web documents so that they work for exchanging documents intended for print. As somebody aware of what hell it's been dealing with web standards, your concern should be focusing not just how long it took for XHTML and CSS standards to be sort-of accepted, but how stupid it would be to go and extend something that people have been working hard to simplify.
    • I'm concerned that standardising on ODF will come to bite us

      Since ODF is an open and free standard, converters can be written between ODF and XHTML+CSS. So we won't get bitten in the bad sense of being stuck, like .DOC and possibly OOXML (with its MS-only undefined sections). If XHTML+CSS turns out to be so much better in a few years, we will be able to convert our documents to it. Yes, this might not be perfect, but then neither is XHTML+CSS right now.
      • by WasterDave (20047)
        Since ODF is an open and free standard, converters can be written between ODF and XHTML+CSS

        This may be true, but I suspect it's not. The combination of XHTML and CSS are very much about putting the information in once place, along with information about what the information *is*, and a description of how to display it somewhere else. It's going to take a big leap for a manufacturer of word processors to separate "this word is italicised" from "this word is italicised because that's how it displays on this o
        • by richlv (778496)
          odf actually is very much like that. if you unzip the file (as suggested here several times already ;) ), you will see that content is quite separated from formatting.
          of course, hordes of direct formatting loving droids have a hard time grasping the concept of styles, but that's mostly they have never bothered to find out - most can handle styles quite well after just a short introduction, so i'd guess it's more about finding out about the concept than having unusable guis (btw, openoffice.org is sticking s
    • by AJWM (19027)
      I had been thinking that ODF was "obviously" a good thing until I read the rant by Opera's CTO about how shit both standards are (a memory dump between angle brackets), and how the correct way would be to go for XHTML with CSS formatting.

      So how do I do a spreadsheet in XHTML with CSS formatting? And I mean a serious computational spreadsheet, perhaps with some charts thrown in, not just some data layed out in a table.

      ODF is not just for pretty text documents, its for the product of all kinds of office apps
    • I'm definitely with you, philosophically at least, about the need for greater simplicity.

      I don't know whether XML+CSS is it, because I'm honestly not that familiar with CSS and XML (when I stopped paying attention to web stuff, HTML was a fairly simple text-markup language), but it seems like there ought to be some middle ground between plain ASCII text and the massive complexity of the competing XML office-document formats.

      While certainly ODF is a step in the right direction away from proprietary binary bl
      • [...] I'm made slightly nervous about enshrining a requirement to use it into law [...]

        This is not about law. This is about how executive branch does things internally. IOW, in democracy you shouldn't be forced to buy M$Word/et just to check what/how your government does with tax payers dollars .

        This is internal regulation on how bureaucracy does things - not any kind of law. For added transparency, U.S. government has policy to use existing standards. There is a standard - ODF - and during policy r

    • Re:X(HT)ML+CSS? (Score:5, Informative)

      by nitsuj (966) on Monday March 05, 2007 @04:39AM (#18235112)
      Read:
      http://old.opendocumentfellowship.org/Articles/Int roductionToTheFormatInternals [opendocume...owship.org]
      http://old.opendocumentfellowship.org/Articles/For matODFVsMSXML [opendocume...owship.org]

      And let me know if you still think the ODF is merely a 'memory dump in angle brackets'. Maybe they could have reused a good chunk of CSS, but that would also require another type of basic parser in implementations. I imagine you've heard of expat, but can you name a standard CSS parser library? I can't, and once upon a time, I had CVS checkin privs on mozilla. Looks simple enough, but ask a web developer if they've ever heard of any major browser having CSS parser bugs.

      And it looks like ODF's style definitions could maybe be generously described as CSS in XML, too. Regardless, I think you could make a pretty compelling argument that the layout needs that have historically driven CSS are a little different than a word processor's needs.

      Back when I worked on Abiword, the native format was very similar to XHTML/CSS. Some arbitrary element renamings -- I believe our equivalent to the span tag was a single letter. The XML->XHTML conversion could probably have been handled by a simple sed script.

      For styling, we reused as much CSS as possible. I learned about a lot of nifty stuff in CSS3 back then. I hope I get to use some of that stuff in browsers some day. But we were well on our way to the first draft of a hypothetical CSS3 Wordprocessor Module, too.

      The OOXML format does strike me as a brain dead C struct to XML encoder, however. And I know the doc format pretty well, having written some non-trivial bits of wvware and the Abiword importer based on it. We actually once got a post on the mailing list from someone looking for technical details on the doc format, and they had been forwarded to us by someone on the Word team at Microsoft. They had their time-tested, battle-worn libraries, but we apparently understood the actual bytes better than anyone still in Redmond willing to help a customer.

      But we all knew that the eventual Microsoft XML format was going to be silly. Actually, it's better than I expected. I had considered the occasional base64 encoded binary data structure wrapped in data tag to be a very real possibility.

      In my mind, the most astonishing thing is that they just arbitrarily reimplemented -- and generally very badly -- dozens of standards, including many ISO ones. I believe they have several novel timestamp definitions, in addition to ISO's.

      I'm pretty shocked anyone is even pretending OOXML is being seriously considered as a standard. I think some people in Redmond had an April Fools' joke get out of hand. If this gets standardized, I expect the next anti-trust case is going to reveal internal Microsoft emails with text such as "holy shit, ISO just accepted our format!"

      PS: I don't even read slashdot that often anymore, and I very rarely post. The few times I do, I generally don't even bother to login. But it would seem that several years of random hobbyist open-source contributions have made me quite likely one of the top few dozen or so domain experts on the planet regarding your specific post. I thought that was kind of amusing myself. I don't know if anyone actually cares, but my name is Justin Bradford, and I imagine google retains sufficient evidence of what I claim.
      • by WasterDave (20047)
        Well thank Christ for that, I appear to have dragged someone who knows what they're talking about out of retirement. No "PM" system on Slashdot, obviously.

        Right. I have some reading to do. Nice post, thanks.

        Dave
      • by WasterDave (20047)
        Read:
        http://old.opendocumentfellowship.org/Articles/Int [opendocume...owship.org] roductionToTheFormatInternals
        http://old.opendocumentfellowship.org/Articles/For [opendocume...owship.org] matODFVsMSXML

        And let me know if you still think the ODF is merely a 'memory dump in angle brackets'.

        I have read and understood. I repent. It basically is XML with styling and if it's here already we're not going to get any better. Embedding ODF readers in browsers would be quicker and cleaner than further extending CSS all the way out to spreadsheets and what have you. We
    • by caudron (466327)

      I read the rant by Opera's CTO about how shit both standards are (a memory dump between angle brackets)

      Either the CTO was lying or he's retarded. (There, my obligatory inciting opening is out of the way).

      Seriously though, open up OpenOffice.org, make a document, save it to disk, then open the document up in File Roller or Winzip or 7-zip or whatever you use for archives and actually look at the underlying xml. It's pretty damn far from a serialized binary object. A serialized Binary object is what MS's fi

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      how the correct way would be to go for XHTML with CSS formatting.

      Like, seriously, why not?


      Well, maybe I want to track revisions. Or when I do a mail merge with the letter, maybe I want the settings to stick around for the next time I do a mail merge? Oh, and preserving the Undo history between saving the file and opening it again would be handy. Keeping track of what the print margins were set to. Maybe I want my newsletter to have 4 columns... that's a royal, royal pain in CSS.

      Criminy, it's not just about
  • Incorrect Name (Score:2, Informative)

    While ODF has been recognized as a global standard and been given an ISO stamp by the International Standards Organization, ...
    That is the International Organization for Standardization [wikipedia.org]
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday March 05, 2007 @02:22AM (#18234496)
    It's a very long way from introducing a bill to seeing it out of committee, surviving kill-based amendments, brought to the floor for a vote, passed, passed again in the other chamber, signed into law, and actually implemented. There is nothing at all here to get excited about yet, if ever.
    • There is nothing at all here to get excited about yet, if ever.

      On the one hand we have a company which names it's format as "Office Open XML" but documents the specification in over 6000 pages, using words like Windows 95 compatibility etc. in that spec... and yet has the guts to call it Open.

      And on the other, we have a bunch of companies who have realised it's no use talking to the 800lb gorilla.. and basically decided to implement a workable, truly open, truly interoperable format... that may or may no
  • The Linux/OSS zealots aren't getting it... MS won't care if everybody uses the ODF standard, because at the end of the day, just like with Windows, people will continue buying their software in large numbers because it simply works better than the OSS/Free alternatives out there. People have been saying the same thing about Linux for more than a decade, and Linux hasn't taken more than a negligible chunk of the small to medium server from MS (most was cannibalized from other *nix variants), and virtually n
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Monday March 05, 2007 @02:54AM (#18234670)
      As a linux user that sounds fine to me. I actually think MSOffice is a well-made suite, for what it is (I'm also a LaTeX person,) but if my professors and peers send me a .odp instead of a .ppt to work on, it makes my life that much easier. Preparing final presentations for classes, I've had to spend a lot of time on Windows so that I'd be able to collaborate on Powerpoint Presentations. The import features on OO.o work fine for a final product (except some minor things with equations and font sizes being off), but are unusable for trading documents back and forth modifying them each time.

      The idea of open standards is compatibility and being able to make choices, not market-share and trying to force your software ideology on someone else, unless of course you're trying to hold on to a monopoly sustained by a closed standard.
      • Should do what I did when I hit the two semester "project" class in my college program. Convert my group to LaTeX. Once I showed the group leader that he could spend time editing the document and not wrestling with enumerations, layout, table of contents, etc, he jump on board. That there were TeX tools for both Linux and Windows made things very simple.

        Why people write technical documents in anything else is really beyond me. With a proper macro package you can make LaTeX very simple to use, even with
    • I agree.

      The biggest threat to microsoft is their ability (and increasing willingness) to force everyone to pay for microsoft products.

      Microsoft benefited enormously from the network effect of having a large number of it's users who couldn't buy the product anyway using it.

      Now that everyone has to use it and pay for it, folks are a lot more interested in alternatives.

  • Prophetic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chuckymonkey (1059244)
    I just want to say to the /. community that before you all start raving about the downfall of M$ with this think about all the other industries out there. A few state government industries aren't even a drop in the bucket for the number of licenses M$ has out there. Now all the Fortune 500 companies going to "open" standards would be a watershed prophetic moment, this is pissing in a volcano. Remember in order for there to be developers someone somewhere has to make money selling software.
    • That isn't the point of this. The point is that state governments are beginning to adopt completely open formats. OOXML is not a completely open format, and so that leaves it out of the running. I don't know about you, but I want my government as transparent as possible. This helps with that, albeit in a small way. It really doesn't matter if it's ODF, or if some other format is chosen in the end, just so long as it is totally transparent. This isn't the type of thing that is really "Microsoft Bashfest" mat
    • by AJWM (19027)
      Remember in order for there to be developers someone somewhere has to make money selling software.

      Nope. In fact most developers work for companies that do not make money selling software. Now, aside from those few that are losing money selling software (grin), I mean those companies (and other organizations - governments, universities, etc) whose primary product(s) is/are something other than software. (Take your Fortune 500 -- how many of them make most (or any) of their money selling software? How ma
    • by mormop (415983)
      "A few state government industries aren't even a drop in the bucket for the number of licenses M$ has out there."

      This is true, but if companies have to deal with regulators and other statutory authorites in ODF format then they'll be forced to OO.org or MS will have to make Office ODF capable. If everyone who has any dealing with the tax authorities or other government departments then has ODF capable software then the old excuse of needing MSOffice because everyone else uses it goes out of the window and M
  • by planckscale (579258) on Monday March 05, 2007 @03:11AM (#18234766) Journal
    I am a geezer IT guy working for the State. My boss comes up to me and says, "Junior", after you change your Depends, I need you to convert these files into something we can read. "Hmm," I say "these files were made with MS Word 12. The current version of Word is 21." "Just do it old man!" Okay, so bust out my trusty nix box, start vi and start wading through the mounds of crap, and come back to my boss. "Well, what did you find?" He asks.

    "Nothing." I say, "...except for a string of text...'Girly men'."

    "Girly men?" He says.

    "Yes," I repeat, "Girly men!".

    "Well damn it!" he says, "In what context??"

  • by Alphager (957739) <florian@haas.gmail@com> on Monday March 05, 2007 @03:33AM (#18234848) Homepage Journal
    Stop painting ODF as the big threat to Microsoft: No-one in the administrations who demand ODF want to stop using MS Office. Microsoft has an import/export-plugin for Office2007, and that's the end of it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mOdQuArK! (87332)
      It's a threat to Microsoft because if Microsoft can't control the data format, then they can't lock users into their suite of Office products - and then they can't stop their customers from using other vendor's office suites.
  • threat? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oohshiny (998054) on Monday March 05, 2007 @03:42AM (#18234892)
    The term "threat" suggests that something Microsoft legitimately owns or does is at risk. But this is no "threat", it's merely fair competition and should have happened a decade ago.

    Microsoft can easily implement ODF. Microsoft will probably lose some marketshare, but they will do that anyway, and Office will probably still remain the dominant office suite either way.

    So, let's go easy on language like "threat".
    • by catman (1412)
      You're right, FOSS doesn't have to use the "threat" word. I use FOSS for my own sake, not to hit out at Microsoft ( "that will be a totally unintended side effect")

      However, Microsoft seems to regard any competition at all as a threat, whether or not the competitor is in a position to influence Microsoft's revenue. Hence the refusal to implement ODF.

      (I have found that the most effective way to promote Linux in the workplace is "show, don't tell". There's a large number of presentations and whitepapers flyin
    • by dpilot (134227)
      Glad someone else said it, because if you hadn't, I would.

      But let's take your first sentence, because that's where the real beef is, and reflects reality. I suspect Microsoft would rather nobody see the first 2 sentences, and feels that the use of "legitimately" is absolutely correct.

      This is the point that is missing from the debate, that ODF does NOT exclude Microsoft from participating, it merely excludes them from excluding others.

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