Saturday, September 24, 2005

Massachusetts, OpenDocument, and THE Microsoft

Massachusetts is proposing to implement a new file format for all government documents called OpenDocument. OpenDocument is an open source XML based standard document format for text, spreadsheet, chart, and graphical documents. It allows users to share files across different office suites seamlessly, no interpolation required.

From what I understand about OpenDocument, it is not as feature rich as Microsoft's proprietary file formats, but being an open standard the files can be traded back and forth between office suites. That is a mighty compelling feature itself. And for government work, it might not be such a bad thing to limit the amount of 'features' a document has in it. Lastly, since it is an open source standard, it is certainly possible to add more functionality later.

So is this bad for Microsoft? Possibly, but probably not, or at least not so much. First, because OpenDocument is a open standard, old MS could simply add it into their office suite. And I bet that they eventually will. If not, then there is a business opportunity here for a software company to create a plug-in for MS Office that can read and write to the OpenDocument format.

But, really, what this is about is the world being freed from the tyranny of Microsoft's proprietary file formats. That will allow us to freely choose whatever office suite we want. So how is that not bad for MS? Well, I think it is likely that people will still choose MS Office, not only because it is what they know, but also because it is just so feature rich. And the masses seem to like it. And when the customer has the chance to choose the product, they then have a stake in it and become defacto advocates for it. As an example, a few years ago I became so fed up with MS's blatant unfair practices around Internet Explorer, that I did everything I could to avoid using it. Well, after a few months I came to the conclusion that IE was in fact the best browser of the day and acknowledged that it would have become number one regardless of the games MS was playing. I was very adamant about it. Of course that changed when Firefox matured. I switched to Firefox because Mozilla had finally put out not an equal browser, but a superior one.And MS always has Outlook, the ultimate bloatware that is massively habit forming. Thunderbird (which can be integrated with OpenOffice) is light years from Outlook, it is like a better version of Outlook Express.

That is not to say that I will be using MS Office, I have already switched to OpenOffice. But I am usually in the minority, I expect that I will be in the minority on this topic as well. For me, MS Office is just too frustrating to use. I have to work to get past all the crap that they throw at the user, like the 'help' window. Just like with the new design of XP, MS Office 2003 has more stuff that does not help me use my computer, it just adds stuff that gets in my way. I am very thankful that MS incorporated the ability to change the overall GUI to that of Win2K. That is my greatest worry with Vista, that MS may abandon the 'classic' theme and have some even more hideous GUI. If that is the case, it could well send me to MAC or Linux. Though, I would not look forward to that and I have to be hopeful that Vista will be at least as good as Win2K.

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