Massachusetts says "No" to Microsoft

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is considering a move away from Microsoft Office and toward Open Source products like Open Office.

Microsoft's proprietary XML formats that are being used in current and future versions of Office to store Word and Excel documents, among others, are licensed to users. What this means, basically, is that you have the right to open and use your own Word documents only as long as Microsoft allows you to.

The state government of Massachusetts is worried, and rightly so, that public documents may become inaccessible either legally (if in the future the state does not continue to renew MS software licenses) or may become incompatible and therefore unreadable because MS has changed document formats.

An emerging document interchange standard called Open Document is not supported by Microsoft and the company has publicly stated that they will not support it now or in the future.

I think Microsoft's heavyhanded licensing is going to be their downfall. The Office products, as software, are really pretty good. But the company's stubborn insistence on protecting the wheezing Windows platform with patents, copyrights, and restrictive licenses is only going to accelerate the move to other office productivity products.

As an example, Microsoft stubbornly refuses to issue a version of Office for Linux, even though it would be easy for the company to do so, and would make them buckets of money. On the Mac platform, the company petulantly refuses to update and improve a now very old version of Internet Explorer because Apple provides an alternative. Even more bizarre, Mac versions of Office are a cash cow for Microsoft, so it is hard to understand why the company refuses to update the product. And with Apple's surging computer sales (twice the growth as any other computer maker), Mac users are buying lots of copies of Office.

Microsoft is like the neighborhood kid who has the game ball and insists that he gets to make all the rules or will take the ball and go home. But alternatives are emerging--other game balls--and if Microsoft continues to play this way, the rest of the neighborhood is going to find another ball to play with, just like Massachusetts.

Community news and projects:

Knowledge Democracy: