Thursday, October 13, 2005

OpenDocuments closed minds

Slashdot has a posting pointing to Fox News retraction of an earlier report by James Pendergast, executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership. An earlier article on Slashdot pointed out that one of the founding members of his organization made his position look suspiciously like shilling for Microsoft.

The argument in essence is over whether Massachussetts is right to make all documents it produces available in an open source document format and PDF. If they do they would be the first state government to use OpenDocument for things like unemployment forms and anything else that is shared electronically between agencies.

The reason why it is a good idea is the reason Microsoft is so oppossed to it. OpenDocument is an open standard that anyone can use in a similiar way as PDF, you can find many apps besides Acrobat that will open PDFs. While some apps will open Word documents they do not display it properly in many cases and the new document formats Microsoft is creating for the next Office are proprietary XML. The planned change will require that all old Office documents, spreadsheets etc. be converted to the new format which may change at any time.

Office is not great at backwards compatibility when moving to a new or different version of Office (Mac to PC) reformatting often has to take place. The new Office will also require a much faster PC than most governments have so updating the office suite means updating the office PCs as well. Let's not forget that while Windows PCs dominate most of the government market there are still Mac, Linux and Sun systems out there.

Microsoft had and has a chance to use OpenDocument it is an open standard that is set forth by committee. If a Microsoft programmer sees a way to do things better in OpenDocument they are free to submit their modifications for all to use. Microsoft is also free to use OpenDocument along with their new Office document specs. They don't even have to pay a liscensing fee. The real concern is that given the ability to move to another office suite without losing their past work people may choose to do so. That choice takes away a big roadblock for most people thinking of switching from Windows.

Frankly, I think all state governments and commonwealths should move to OpenOffice or the OpenDocument format, I'm looking at you Pennsylvania. It would save taxpayers a lot of money in licensing fees and could spur competition in the office suite world which has grown stagnant.

For the curious OpenOffice runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X (in X11). NeoOffice is a native port of OpenOffice for OSX users who don't want to delve into the Unix goodness that lies at the core of the Mac. There are a number of other products that use the OpenDocument format but these are free and easy to install.

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