AB-1668 Is Good For California

Wednesday, 2007-April-11 at 10:31 5 comments

Are you here because you received the e-mail from Microsoft attempting to stir up a fake grassroots effort against AB-1668? Would you like to know more about the bill before you lend your voice to their effort? You came to the right place.

Before we start, let me clarify: I strongly support AB-1668, and have written e-mails and letters in support of the ideas behind the bill.

O(blog N) asks,

Microsoft seriously attempting a campaign to kill AB 1668? This would
be outrageous! Not only would it be counter to common sense, but the
bill doesn’t preclude the use of Microsoft applications anyway. It
would just mean that Microsoft would have to use a file format that
meets some common sense requirements….

California and the rest of the world have pretty much standardized on Microsoft Office for several years. However, due in part to their change from proprietary binary formats to semi-open XML formats, over the next few years everyone will have to rewrite all of their applications that are based on office documents, as well as purchase new office software. California’s cost will be in the billions.

While I support the use of XML-based files for these documents, you have to admit that California did not get a choice as to whether the state was going to be required to purchase all new software and rewrite all of its custom software. This is what happens when one company controls the standard.

California and other governments around the world are taking this opportunity to examine a file format known as OpenDocument Format. ODF is freely-available for any software company to use, including Microsoft. It is designed to encompass the known functionality of multiple office suites and documents, including Microsoft’s “legacy” binary formats, as well as to evolve to handle additional functionality as it comes along.

Think about why you use Microsoft Office. Is it because it is any better than most of its competitors? No, of course not! You use Microsoft Office because Microsoft is the only company that fully understands its file formats, so using anything else brings some formatting errors into some of your documents.

Because of this, Microsoft can make minor, incompatible changes every two to three years, which forces you to buy the newest version of their software when the existing software worked fine until they broke compatibility.

To The Members Of The California State Assembly
My statement of why California needs AB-1668.

The reason for AB-1668 is to ensure that the state of California has control over its software purchases, rather than some out-of-state company. AB-1668 is part of a package of “sunshine bills”, meant to make our state government decision-making processes visible and accessible to all. Currently, despite the Brown Act, there is still a lot of backroom deal-making in Sacramento, and these bills aim to cut down on the ability of a few well-financed organizations to manipulate state government to enforce their will upon the entire state.

Some comments on (Microsoft’s) Robertson’s e-mail message:

AB 1668 establishes a”procurement preference” for Open Document Format (ODF) which is an open source software format only supported by a few software vendors.

False. AB-1668 requires that the state use a neutral format, not controlled by any specific vendor. ODF is currently the only format that meets the requirements, being supported by a large number of vendors and other organizations. There is no such thing as an “open source file format,” only open standard file formats and Mr. Robertson is among those who should know better.

ODF and Open XML […] It is important to recognizethat ODF and Open XML were created with very different design goals […]ODF is closely tied to OpenOffice and related products, and reflects the functionality in those products.

False. Both formats are designed to represent the data from office applications in an XML-based format. ODF was designed to work with multiple vendors’ software, while MS-OOXML was designed to tie the format to a single vendor’s products. The sad thing about this is that Microsoft and its employees already know this and still continue to say otherwise. It is poor form to tie a file format to the in-memory representations of the data, because those representations change from version to version, while a well-designed file format may persist over several versions. If this is what the current .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats do, that would help explain some of the minor incompatibilities that happen between versions. I note that documents created in WordPerfect’s .wpd format with today’s versions of their software can still be round-tripped with version 7, which dates from the late 1990s. If tiny Corel Corp. can do this, why can’t Microsoft?

Try to round-trip your .doc files with Word 6 or 97 and you will see why ODF is the future of office applications, while MS-OOXML is a throwback to a dying age. In many enterprises, there are important documents, such as contracts, loan documents, or real estate transactions, that were computerized back in the mid-to-late 1990s, which are now questionable as to opening with newer versions of MS Office. Much of the problem is in poorly-designed file formats that serve as “memory dumps” of the then-current versions of the software. Repeat after me: “a file format is not supposed to be a direct representation of the memory structures, but instead it should be an abstracted representation of data and functionality that can remain relatively stable for several versions of the applications that created the file.”

What does that mean in common American English?

Let me say it this way: send your Web browser to Yahoo.com, then to Google.com, then to Ask.com. If you have two different browsers, try it with both of them. What you should see is that for most browsers and most sites, the fact that HTML/XHTML are somewhat standardized gives you a fair amount of browser independence. ODF is similarly designed to enable users to access their data with any vendor’s office software. If Microsoft refused to do this with MS-OOXML, that is poor planning on their part, but this should not prevent California from standardizing on ODF for the benefit of the state and its citizens.

IBM led a global campaign urging national bodies to demand that ISO/IEC JTC1 not even consider OpenXML[…] This campaign to stop even the consideration of Open XML in ISO/IECJTC1 is a blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace for ulterior commercial motives – and without regard for the negative impact on consumer choice and technological innovation.

False. Even during the Ecma International rubber-stamping process, while Ecma was not allowed to make any “incompatible” changes in the MS-OOXML format, the community of software users and those who support users or create “solutions” for enterprises were clamoring for Microsoft to make major changes in the format for the benefit of the users. Microsoft and Ecma refused to do so. So much for consumer choice and innovation.

Again, the opposition to MS-OOXML becoming an ISO standard is not some astroturfing campaign led by IBM. Now that there is an international standard, users and IT staffers such as myself wish for some time to let the standard do its job without introducing an alternate and inferior vendor-specific “standard” to try to prevent end-users and enterprises from gaining the benefits of a standard.

On the other hand, ODF being an industry-standard format that is not controlled by any vendor will greatly reduce the costs of software to the end-user and purchaser, while simultaneously enabling new and unexpected solutions to be created by ISVs, ASPs, corporate IT departments, and independent software houses. If Microsoft cares about consumer choice and innovation, let them fully-support ODF in their software, so that users will have choice where it matters to users, in the applications that they use, rather than choice in file formats, which only matters to vendors.


Over the years since Microsoft’s office suite became predominant, purchasers and end-users have requested the ability to work with any office document with whatever software that they may have available. Microsoft has used its file formats as a way to both squeeze competitors (e.g., WordPerfect) into ever-smaller smaller niches in the market and as a way to squeeze end-users and purchasers into buying upgrades. In both of these things, the interests of the company have come before those of the purchasers and end-users.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the industrial-age model of top-down control is dying. New uses for (and long-term access to) the data in your office documents requires that the data be stored using open, standardized file formats such as ODF.

Read the bill: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_1651-1700/ab_1668_bill_20070223_introduced.html

No doubt you have read that this bill is designed to force California to buy “open source” software like OpenOffice. This is not at all true. California will continue to purchase commercially-licensed software like Sun’s StarOffice; IBM’s Notes, Domino, and SmartSuite; Microsoft’s office suite; and Corel’s WordPerfect, although it may indeed opt for some open source from time to time. Once Microsoft sees that California (along with Texas, Massachusetts, and other states) is requiring these file formats, they will suddenly wake up one day and produce an “emergency update” that adds the capability, exactly the way they changed some unacceptable fonts in their 2003 version of their office suite. Remember that government sales are about 10% of the market. Microsoft is not going to stubbornly hold out when the loss of that market (plus that of government contractors) is at stake.

The only difference is that there will be true competition for state IT dollars. This is what Microsoft fears, and the reason for astroturfing campaigns in California and the UK.

Earlier Coverage of AB-1668 and Similar Bills

This very blog has covered some of the relevant issues previously.

Microsoft Threatened By Consumer Choice, Not By Standardized File Formats

Microsoft has had a near-monopoly in office applications software, resulting in higher prices and less innovation in this market. By making it possible for multiple vendors to use the same file formats, ODF gives choice to the purchasers and end users–a choice of which software they desire to buy–which is the only choice that matters.

Microsoft is free to implement the ISO-standard ODF format in their products–or to continue to ignore the format–but California should decide on a format that is best for the state and its citizens.

Consumers and Enterprises Empowered By Consumer Choice, Threatened By MS-OOXML

Whenever there are functionally-equivalent choices, some people will pick one choice, while other people will pick another. It is only the monopoly control of the file formats most people use that has made it difficult for individuals, businesses, and governments to choose alternate software packages.

Other Resources For More Information

O(blog N) writes, “…. the bill doesn’t preclude the use of Microsoft applications anyway. It would just mean that Microsoft would have to use a file format that meets some common sense requirements…” Common sense requirements.

Bytesfree is a new blog that is focusing on the political organizing and activities needed to pass this bill. According to Cyrus Mack, he formed the site because of the attempt by an out-of-state vendor to mount a fake grassroots campaign (or astroturf) against the bill.

OpenDocument Format Alliance site

OpenDocument Foundation site

OASIS OpenDocument Community site

Standards Blog site: an attorney covers issues related to standards and the bodies that set them

technorati tags:, , ,

Blogged with Flock

Entry filed under: ODF, Open Standards.

D. Lyons Rips RMS Snap Gone


  • […] In this blog post, Walt Hucks absolutely destroys Microsoft’s propaganda against AB 1668. If you know of anyone on the fence about this issue, direct them to that one page. Some choice quotes: While I support the use of XML-based files for these documents, you have to admit that California did not get a choice as to whether the state was going to be required to purchase all new software and rewrite all of its custom software. This is what happens when one company controls the standard. […]

  • 2. SolidOffice » Blog Archive » Hucks on ODF in California  |  Wednesday, 2007-April-18 at 12:47

    […] Hucks posts another fusillade supporting efforts by California to set ODF as its default office applications format. He thoroughly destroys the FUD coming out of Redmond. (It’s not […]

  • 3. 2008: The Year of Open Document Formats? « Opportunity Knocks  |  Sunday, 2008-January-13 at 22:33

    […] be a tool used to make competitors look inferior in order to grab market share from them. I wrote an essay last year about open file formats legislation (AB1668) that was being considered by the California […]

  • […] good. Does this mean that the company will stop opposing the use of citizen-friendly file formats in state governments? Will this help Microsoft hold on to its monopoly hold on the market even if states decide to […]

  • 5. Renewing ODF Advocacy « Opportunity Knocks  |  Sunday, 2008-June-08 at 15:18

    […] more, see this. It is written in support of last year’s AB-1668 in the California Legislature. Hopefully, […]

RSS Slingshot

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Unknown Feed

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Unknown Feed

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Owner Managed Business

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.


Blog Stats

  • 599,448 hits


%d bloggers like this: