Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Open Document Formats

My brother-ex-law Michael Hickins has an article on today covering the current status of Microsoft's attempt to get their Office Open XML format adopted as an international standard.


It is my belief that government has a duty to publish their electronic content in an open, standards-based document format, that is readable by standards-based software.

To put it another way, I don't think I should have to fork over $200 for Microsoft Office just so I can read the minutes from last week's State Senate hearings.

The underlying logic here is that open standards lead to open data. Much as I believe clinical data should be freely accessible by it's owner (the patient), and that quality performance rates should be accessible and comprehensible and available to all, so too do I believe that the copious amount of information produced by government should be both forwards-compatible (imagine trying to open a Word 95 document 20 years from now) and openable in any decent text editor.

The people's government should be publishing the people's information in a manner in which the people can read it freely. And by freely I mean both with no hindrance and for little or no cost.

This is the reason I use standards-compliant markup code as much as possible when producing Web-based report cards. I want them to work in as many Web browsers as possible, not just the latest version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Local and federal governments around the world have been slowly pushing for open document standards, and slowly the US is catching up. Massachusetts has already mandated open documents using the already-standard Open Document Format, Texas and Minnesota are considering a similar action, and California announced today they would consider a bill.

The rub here is that if Microsoft's new XML format for Office doesn't get accepted as a standard, they won't be able to shoehorn their office suite onto government desktops. And that's a lot of revenue they'll be missing out on.

I guess then our state governments would have to shell out for copies of Open Office instead. How much is it? That's right. Free. You can go get a copy for yourself right now if you don't believe me.

I've been using it for years, and the only downside is that very often, Microsoft-specific Powerpoint files won't open. I'm real cut up about it.

While we're plugging Michael, here's a shameless plug for his new novel Blomqvist. It defies description, so go check it out.


John Schoneboom said...

Well said: A Peruvian congressman's response to Microsoft's objections to Peru requiring government agencies to use open source software for public information. Lays out the argument for open source, non-proprietary software in the public context pretty cogently.

But I think Michael's article is a bit of a different issue. Sounds like Microsoft isn't arguing against open source in this case; instead they want their own model to be adopted as the open source standard for documents ("If you can't beat 'em, control 'em"). Still obnoxious and wrong-headed, but in a different way.

Disclosures and Disclaimers


My employer is compensated through funding to provide analytical research, technology solutions, and Web-based public and private health care performance reports by the State of New York, the State of Illinois, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Commonwealth Fund and Bridges to Excellence. I am not being compensated by any of these organisations to create articles for or make edits to this Web site or any other medium; and all posts authored by me are as an individual and do not represent my employer or the agencies I work for.