Open document formats defeated in five states

Posted on June 5, 2007

If you just read the headline of this story, maybe you thought "Man, that sucks that I won't be able to open documents in five states. Then again, if I get a job in one of those states, I guess I won't have to stare at a computer screen all day." Before I continue, let me explain what open document format is.

According to the Wikipedia, OpenDocument (ODF) is a document file format used for describing just about any type of electronic document you can ponder. A technical committee generated standards for documents so that developers and the like could use them to build and improve word processing applications, among other items.

OK, back to the story ... on June 3, Connecticut, Texas, Florida, Oregon and Florida all killed legislation that would have mandated the use of Open Document Format. Currently, this stands as a huge victory for Microsoft, but in a few years, no one in the U.S. will be winning much with decisions like these.

For example, have you ever tried to open a WordPerfect document that you created in the '90s? It's not the simplest task. Furthermore, not everyone has a few hundred dollars to shell out for reading and creating documents.

There are numerous reasons standards exist. One valuable reason, of course, is to support those standards moving forward. What will happen to Word documents 20 years from now, when they cannot be opened by newer word processing applications?

While this is definitely a blow to the Open Document Format, it's not the end. The number of people using OpenOffice, a free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite, is growing. There are more ardent supporters each day for the usage of open source software. Eventually, some of this reasonability is destined to trickle into the minds of government representatives.

If not, you may want to grease your printer and buy a few extra cartridges of toner. As the monks transcribed books hundreds of years ago, we may end up doing the same.



Whatever happened to freedom? Shouldn't I be free to use MS Word if I so choose? Why should the government dictate every aspect of our lives as though the government were perfection embodied and would never make a mistake?

It's not that I'm for closed documents. I think they're terrible. However, I am against ideas which take away freedoms which do not directly hurt someone else's freedoms. This is one of those things.

In a free market, the consumers will choose whatever is beneficial to them at that moment. If MS Word document are currently beneficial to them, they will pick it. However, 20 years down the road, if suddenly they are losing documents because Word could not be opened by future versions of software (something I highly doubt as well) then consumers will naturally learn their lesson and gravitate towards documents which are more easily read by software. I'm already seeing signs of consumers learning their lessons in the OS world!

The implications of trusting the government over the free market reach deep - is the voter no longer trustworthy? Maybe a Republic is a big mistake. (Obviously that's a bit extreme, but I'm trying to point out a contradiction.)

Tue, 05/19/2009 - 16:15 Permalink

I think you are missing the point of using an Open Document Format. By using apps that are OPF-compliant, people can select their favorite app without worrying whether it's compatible or not. A corporation or government entity would most likely select some sort of file format for their employees to use so that files can be passed back and forth with ease. Wouldn't there be more "freedom" in using an open format versus a closed one? The main reason people use the MS Office Suite right now is because that's what they're used to. Sure, there are some niceties that set it apart from the OpenOffice suite, but I suspect more people will be turning to Google docs eventually anyway.

I'm also guessing that you have not tried to open a WordPerfect document from the '90s! Anyway, thanks for writing.

Thu, 06/04/2009 - 07:56 Permalink

This wasn't my point. You put forward the use of law to force people to choose ODF. I put forward the proper education of the masses on why they ought not to use MS Office.

What right does the government have to force "freedom" down someone's throat if they don't want it? And what freedom is there if you are forced to use a format or not to use a certain closed format? How does the government know that ODF is right? What if the government chose to force MS Office down your throat? Would you want the government putting laws down that require the use of MS Office? Then why ODF? Why not let the free market and the free people of the US choose what works best?

That's what I was after.

Thanks for taking the time to respond. :)

Thu, 06/04/2009 - 08:10 Permalink