Texas Trying Again

Saturday, 2009-March-28 at 15:49

Texas is once again considering legislation that would select open standard data formats (and software that could use them) for state-produced documents.

Fort Worth legislator pushes for open format in state documents | Fort Worth | Star-Telegram.com

Michael Coté, an Austin-based technology analyst specializing in open-source software, said tying government documents to a proprietary vendor creates the risk that those files may be unreadable in the future as software evolves and companies go out of business. Open-source formats such as OpenDocument are “vendor-neutral,” meaning they work with multiple programs and can more likely be accessed in the future, Coté said.

“If the Constitution was in WordPerfect 5.1 format, it would probably be difficult to read right now,” Coté said, referring to an obsolete but once widely used word processing format.

Veasey filed a similar bill in 2007. It got national attention from technology journalists and bloggers but went nowhere largely because of aggressive lobbying by Microsoft, he said.

At a hearing on the bill then, Microsoft national technology officer Stuart McKee described it as anti-competitive and warned that it could be the equivalent of the state “picking Betamax when everyone else goes with VHS.”

Passage is far from assured, of course. Many people freak out at the thought that they might lose the ability to use the leading proprietary office suite. On top of that, the leading proprietary vendor has an accomplished lobbying team that seeks to crush any move that could threaten their dominance. I also think that talking about it in terms of licensing costs is the wrong issue. The state will want to buy StarOffice or WordPerfect for the support, rather than just downloading OpenOffice. So licensing costs may go down,

Personally, I think the bill’s opponents are missing the point. A Microsoft that was totally committed to open standard data formats / file formats (not "open source" file formats) and network protocols would indeed face more competition. They might find it difficult to maintain some of their pricing and lose some market share. But this would not only benefit consumers and the states, it would make Microsoft a leaner, stronger, more nimble competitor. For me, at least, supporting such bills is not about trying to hurt Microsoft, because my ideal world has MSFT being one of a group of leading competitors. Ideally, my work environment would have two or three different vendors' applications, so that when a user got too frustrated with one product, we could just switch him/her to a different one.

I realize that a level playing field is scary to Redmondites. But this fear will be replaced by the same kind of thrill that athletes feel in the midst of a game. If I were Mr. Ballmer, I would come to Texas and say, “We’re planning to support ODF anyway. Go ahead and pass this. We think we can make our products good enough that you will choose us most of the time anyway.” Unless, of course, he really doesn’t believe his company' products are that good.

To track the bill, check the Texas Legislature site. Thanks to Rick Jeliffe for the link to the story.

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Entry filed under: ODF, OOXML, Open Standards, Politics. Tags: .

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