California's Open-Document Bill: AB 1668


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):

(a) Beginning on or after January 1, 2008, all documents, including, but not
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, "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, "Embedded Object Alternate Image Requests Types (page 5679) and section "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. 

Standards Blog

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 

Assembly Members

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
                                                          (916) 319-2076

I’ll surely post any responses I get here.

External Resources:

6 thoughts on “California's Open-Document Bill: AB 1668

  1. This just more fud and unfounded crap. Before posting this rubbish, have you ever thought of doing some investigation (the MS Open XML blogs would be a good start – because the noise everywhere else blocks out the facts) and find out for yourself whether what you are printing is restated bs? No – because you are biased.

  2. It is rather sad to see that Microsoft has not changed at all. It it making phonecalls and mailing their customer in order to lobby in a pseudo-grassroot fashion for descruction of a bill that support free competition.

    Microsoft asking people to write leters opposing California A.B. 1668 – Open Document Format

    This is not the first time they play these ‘games’ in California (?), e.g.:

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | In 2001, the Los Angeles Times accused Microsoft of astroturfing
    | when hundreds of similar letters were sent to newspapers voicing
    | disagreement with the United States Department of Justice and its
    | antitrust suit against Microsoft. The letters, prepared by Americans
    | for Technology Leadership, had in some cases been mailed from
    | deceased citizens or nonexistent addresses.

    They also do this in the United Kingdom. This one is just two weeks old.

    Microsoft criticized for Open XML petition

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | The petition is an attempt to make it appear that Open XML
    | has “pseudo-grassroots” support, argues Mark Taylor, the
    | founder of the Open Source Consortium.

    If the lobbying machine is not successful, then California will be the sixth state to support ODF as a matter of policy. The rest of the world already embraces ODF. Only 1 out of 20 countries voiced it support for OOXML approval as an ISO standard.

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