I have an email apparently originating from Microsoft asking people to support their opposition to California A.B. 1668 – Open Document Format, Open Source. by writing to the California Assemblymen involved in this bill. This email has contact information for the Assemblymen involved, and a lot of information about their position regarding ODF.
Is this for real? A little background first. The bill in question, AB 1668, says this (in part):
limited to, text, spreadsheets, and presentations, produced by any
state agency shall be created, exchanged, and preserved in an
open extensible markup language-based, XML-based file format,
as specified by the department. When deciding how to implement
this section, the department in its evaluation of open, XML-based
file formats shall consider all of the following features:
(1) Interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications.
(2) Fully published and available royalty-free.
(3) Implemented by multiple vendors.
(4) Controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.
Great. This bill is common sense. This will be in the best interest of any organization, any industry, and technology in general. Massachusetts has already passed a similar bill. The great state of Minnesota attempted a similar bill previously. Now Minnesota is trying again and Texas plans to attempt a similar open standards bill. No one in their right mind would object to any of these bills. Allow me a moment to explain why this is common sense.
Interoperability. This is about content/data being reusable by any application. Your content should be able to be consumed and understood by a variety of systems and applications. This insists that content created and used by the state of California be stored in a format that other systems can understand. This is important for automating things and making content search-able, discover-able, and reusable. Imagine writing an essay in a language only you and five of your college buddies could understand. This is great if it’s some type of secret document. Perhaps the by-laws to your secret society. But this is useless if your essay is content intended to be communicated or collaborated on. This bill asks that our tax dollars not be trapped in a format only a minority of applications can read and operate on.
Royalty free. Why should you pay a royalty on the content you create? You own it. In this case, why should the government be forced to make annual payments to access and edit their data? It makes no sense. Imagine, again, writing an essay. This is the equivalent of you being forced to pay money every time you wanted to read your essay. Also, any time you wished another person to read your essay they too would have to pay to read it. Always, forever. You’re not getting the money. It’s your essay. Where’s the money going? To the company that made the paper and pen you used to write the essay. Absurd, I know. If you have a proprietary format, let’s say Microsoft Word (.doc), you are required to own that application to create, edit, or view content in that format. It is well known in software that users pay, on average, an annual 20% maintenance fee. You don’t just buy Microsoft Office once. In 1989 Microsoft Word 1.0 was released on Microsoft Windows 3.0 and sold for $500. Can you read the files you created using that software? It’s not likely you’re running a Windows 3.0 computer anymore. It’s unlikely you could use Word 1.0 if you wanted to. In order to read the files you created you would have had to have purchased additional versions of Microsoft Word. You are paying royalties on your content right now! It’s absurd. You’re not even paying for support. You’re just paying a royalty to access and edit your content. And so is everyone you share your content with.
Multiple vendors. Buyers will always pay more when they have available only a single supplier for a given product. Users will always be subjected to an inferior product when there exists only a single supplier. This is a kind of innovation tax. It exists because the supplier has no incentive to improve the product beyond incremental improvements to justify a release in order to be able to sell an upgrade. Case in point, Firefox, an open source Internet browser, forced Microsoft to improve Internet Explorer. If it weren’t for Firefox who knows how long we would have had to wait for multi-tab browsing. Without Firefox, Microsoft would have no incentive to improve their product. If there exists multiple vendors the rate of innovation will be superior and thereby the products. Also, the competition will drive down prices.
Open standards. This makes all of the above possible.
Is 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. Microsoft is currently lobbying for acceptance of its Office Open XML (OOXML) format. ECMA approved this and it’s now before ISO/IEC. The OOXML spec is an unprecedented 6000 pages and is ridiculously contradictory to openness and standards as is evidenced (in part) by:
OOXML does not conform to ISO 8601:2004 "Representation of Dates and Times." Instead, OOXML section 18.104.22.168, "Date Representation," on page 3305, requires that implementations replicate a Microsoft bug that dictates that 1900 is a leap year, which in fact it isn’t. Similarly, in order to comply with OOXML, your product would be required to use the WEEKDAY() spreadsheet function, and therefore assign incorrect dates to some days of the week, and also miscalculate the number of days between certain dates.
Similarly, 22.214.171.124 "Embedded Object Alternate Image Requests Types (page 5679) and section 126.96.36.199 "Clipboard Format Types" (page 5738) refer back to Windows Metafiles or Enhanced Metafiles – each of which are proprietary formats that have hard-coded dependencies on the Windows operating system itself. OOXML should instead have referenced ISO/IEC 8632 "Computer Graphics Metafile" – a platform neutral standard.
Taking the external reference issue further, I’m told that parts of OOXML can’t be implemented by your typical programmer at all without technical assistance from Microsoft, as they refer not only to proprietary Microsoft products, but to undocumented parts of them as well – which violates the General Principles of ISO/IEC Directives, Part 2.
Is this a joke? Why would anyone other than Microsoft want OOXML anyway when we have ODF? I don’t know.
Call to Action:
Contact your state representatives and demand AB 1668 be passed. If you are not a resident of California, Minnesota, or Texas, contact your state representative and demand a similar bill be adopted. Stop this needless waste of our tax dollars. If you live in California, you can use this site to determine your representative by zip code. Every state has a similar website.
Act now! Hearing on AB 1668 in the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy is set for April 17th, presumably in Sacramento.
I sent an email to my two reps and congressman in matter of minutes. For zip 92101, these were:
Member District Number and Office Capitol Office Kehoe, Christine 39 2445 Fifth Avenue State Capitol Suite 200 Room 4040 San Diego, CA 92101 Sacramento, CA 95814 (619) 645-3133 (916) 651-4039
Member District Number and Office Capitol Office Salas, Mary 79 678 Third Avenue State Capitol Suite 105 Room 2137 Chula Vista, CA 91910 Sacramento, Ca (619) 409-7979 94249-0079 (916) 319-2079 Saldana, Lori 76 1557 Columbia Street State Capitol San Diego, CA 92101 Room 5150 (619) 645-3090 Sacramento, Ca 94249-0076 (916) 319-2076
I’ll surely post any responses I get here.
- California AB 1668
- California State Assembly Member Mark Leno website
- He’s also interested in introducing a Net Neutrality bill
- He’s a supporter of the Sunshine Initiative
- A brief analysis of the
- "Why OOXML will ultimately fail"
- "Openness in Microsoft’s OOXML"
- C|Net: "California may adopt OpenDocument"