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MN Bill Would Require Use of Open Data Formats 176

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the enlightenment-is-contagious dept.
Andy Updegrove writes "A bill has been introduced in Minnesota that would require all Executive branch agencies to 'use open standards in situations where the other requirements of a project do not make it technically impossible to do this.' The text of the bill is focused specifically on 'open data formats.' While the amendment does not refer to open source software, the definition of 'open standards' that it contains would be conducive to open source implementations of open standards. The fact that such a bill has been introduced is significant in a number of respects. First, the debate over open formats will now be ongoing in two U.S. states rather than one. Second, if the bill is successful, the Minnesota CIO will be required to enforce a law requiring the use of open formats, rather than be forced to justify his or her authority to do so. Third, the size of the market share that can be won (or lost) depending upon a vendor's compliance with open standards will increase. And finally, if two states successfully adopt and implement open data format policies, other states will be more inclined to follow."
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MN Bill Would Require Use of Open Data Formats

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  • I hope it passes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pilot-programmer (822406) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:31PM (#15071475)
    It is not hard to reverse engineer a proprietary format - several word processors can save in competitor's formats. So this is a symbolic gesture, but it will be good in the future when Microsoft and others copyright their file formats to try and extort money from OpenOffice.Org and others.
    • OpenOffice support for .doc and .ppt (especially .ppt) is flaky at best, but it's not OO's fault that there's 5 or 6 different versions of the format. OpenOffice files are the xml, css, and embedded files for the document, all TARed together. xml, css, and tar aren't going away anytime soon; try opening DACeasy files these days.
    • by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:44PM (#15071572) Homepage
      The more important point is that governments deal in records that are meant to be more or less permanent, or at minimum long-lived. Proprietary formats exist at the whim of a single supplier -- a software company -- and those suppliers are subject to the whims of the market like any other company.

      If I buy some paper from the Bienfang company and write a report on it, that report will still exist and be readable possibly for hundreds of years after Bienfang goes out of business. If Microsoft stops making a word processor or (god forbid) goes out of business, the situation may be different.

      "So what," you say, "just reverse engineer it." But what if, in the intervening years, Microsoft has successfully lobbied for laws that make that a criminal offense? We're talking about future-proofing data here; whether it's implausible is not really the point. The point is that using a closed format introduced risk.

      Another, more likely scenario: Microsoft subtly changes its format, or changes the way that newer versions of its software interprets the older format files. The government is forced to upgrade because Microsoft stops supporting the older version of the program, but the newer version does weird things to all those old records when it opens them.

      There are various reasons to choose true open formats and standards beyond ideological ones.
      • by Kilz (741999) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:01PM (#15071677)
        Another, more likely scenario: Microsoft subtly changes its format, or changes the way that newer versions of its software interprets the older format files. The government is forced to upgrade because Microsoft stops supporting the older version of the program, but the newer version does weird things to all those old records when it opens them.
        Sadly when Microsoft or any other company forces the government to upgrade. The public pays the bill. One of the nice things about open standards is that it promotes competition. That in turn lowers the cost. Saving the government money. This saved money lessens the need to raise taxes to pay for the ever rising cost of the next version of M$ Office.
      • Dead on. You just neglected to add the logical conclusion: Barring misuse of political power, open formats and standards must replace closed ones.
      • by yintercept (517362) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @08:23PM (#15072199) Homepage Journal
        It is strange how our ideals affect information.

        In the olden days, people concentrated quite heavily on open formats. Many programmers saw the data as separate from the program. In this environment, one would expect multiple programs to be dinking with the contents of a file. In such a world, maintaining and adhering to published open formats was the key to success.

        One of the ideals of OO revolution was that object would own the data. Taken to extremes that means that one object should own the data through its entire existence. Early ideas on the problem of persistence was that OO would just save the internal state of the program to the disk, rather than going through the complex task of converting the data to an open format (risking the potential that other programs would be tempted to modify the data). It seems to me that OO ushered in proliferation of proprietary formats. It definitely provided an excuse for creating proprietary formats.

        It seems to me that open data formats is contrary to the ideals of object oriented programming. However, when dealing with data that last longer than the computer, it seems naive that one object will be able to own the data.
        • One of the ideals of OO revolution was that object would own the data. Taken to extremes that means that one object should own the data through its entire existence [...] It seems to me that OO ushered in proliferation of proprietary formats.

          You, sir, are obviously not a programmer.

          The object-oriented paradigm is just a programming idea for how a program should be "broken down." An OO programmer would look at a problem and think of how it can be broken down into more logical, programmable parts - lik

          • by yintercept (517362) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @02:47AM (#15073926) Homepage Journal
            You, sir, are obviously not a programmer.

            That sounds pretty much like the same insults that were slung in my face umpteen years ago when I was trying to argue for using standardized formats for data in several projects.

            Anyway, I find it sad that so few "programmers" actually bother learning anything about the history of what they are doing.

            In "legacy programming" people pretty much saw data as separate from the program. In "legacy" programming you would generally go about a project in two steps. You would design the data format in one step and the program in another. In a project you would write and publish both documentation for the format and program.

            The problem with this "legacy" design methodology was that you have to keep your published data formats in sync with all programs that access the data. Let's say I had a data store where the lastname was 24 characters. In release 1.17, I change the lastname to 32 characters. If someone else had written a program that was directly accessing and manipulating this data; we would have a crisis.

            The bold statement of OO design was that the object owned the data. The object would have complete control of all data from start to finish. You would only publish the interface and not the data format (you would still write both documents, the latter would not be published). This ideal worked well in interface design, but fell flat when dealing with long lived objects saved to disk. Have you ever heard the phrase the "problem of persistence," or are you as ignorant as you are arrogant?

            The problem of persistence was this horrible challenge for pure OO design. No matter how you went about it, data needs to be stored, replicated and transferred outside of the control of a single program. Anyway, many of the first OO programmers took the bold statement that the object owned the data to its logical conclusion. They ended up writing programs that saved data in terse, obfuscated, proprietary formats.

            I know this happened because I was there with my little hexadecimal editor looking at the data.

            OOP was never able to achieve the goal of a single object controlling long lived data. The OO world gradually dropped its bold statement. This is the way history works.

            This long post is relevant to today's article because many OO languages still have objectStore methods that save the internal state of the object to disk. I suspect that any OO program using these object store methods are in violation of the MN law. Even though I dislike programs that store their data in bizarre formats, I don't like seeing them legislated out of existence.

            Sun and other companies use XML for object persistence. These files are more readable, but still hard to work with.

            Whether or not the lazy programmer actually documents the file format or not has nothing to do with whether or not he adheres to OO programming principles.

            Please note that I was talking about publication. Publishing a document is different from writing a document. If you hold that the the data should only be accessed through the interface, then you would not publish the file format, now, would you?

            The object-oriented paradigm is just a programming idea for how a program should be "broken down."

            I laughed when I read that line. The first OO adopters generally saw themselves as architects. The idea of "breaking things down into procedures" was part of the old "legacy" way of thinking. The OO architects build things up from objects. A person doing OOP isn't a computer programmer. When you think in OOP you are architecting systems, not programming computers.

            The really funny thing is that OOP is systematically becoming more like the traditional programming paradigms that it was supposed to transcend.

            • This long post is relevant to today's article because many OO languages still have objectStore methods that save the internal state of the object to disk.

              Indeed they do, but things are perhaps getting better. Ruby [ruby-lang.org], for instance, is switching to use YAML [yaml.org] for this, a standard that is open, human-readable and terse, the two latter much more so than for instance XML. YAML has features specifically designed to allow object persistance for any language as well as persistance of any data.

              It works nicely without cr
            • You, sir, are obviously not a programmer.

              That sounds pretty much like the same insults that were slung in my face umpteen years ago when I was trying to argue for using standardized formats for data in several projects.

              Not only that, he's calling the kettle black, and I doubt he's a programmer himself. A real programmer has experience outside of OO, and is aware that there's a valid argument that there are other models than OO. One doesn't have to agree with the arguments, but no one calling themsel

            • Sigh... legacy programmers had their idiots, too. I am reminded of one VMS/Pascal programmer who tried to persist an entire hydrology database into an enumerated data type, then complained to me that the system was no good -- he'd run out of space. "Darn!" was my response.
    • Given the toothlessness of the judicial system (eg. the Seattlement), I would be very suprised if MS gets at all contrained by this.

      Still, if enough states and countries do this

    • As I'm sure other posters will point out, reverse engineering Microsoft Word formats is a MAJOR pain in the tail, and nobody has done it quite right. Rumor has it that for backwards compatibility, Microsoft must include the engine that drives previous versions of the software because even they don't quite know how it worked.

      Either way, with the best efforts of the Star Office, Open Office, Word Perfect, and many, many other teams of people focused on figuring out the standard, it is still impossible to get
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:31PM (#15071480)
    Does anyone think it's significant that the two efforts are in states with "blue" histories (at least in election years)?
    • by greyduk (966196) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:42PM (#15071560)
      I don't think it's significant at all, Minnesota was closer to being red in the latest election than almost any time in the last century. It can all be directly attributed to the Twin Cities having a very tech-oriented community, often given titles such as "Most Wireless City" and other things. Outside Silicon Valley and Seattle, it is probably the most tech oriented metropolis. This would of course have an indirectly related effect on it's political orientation as well, but partison politics really seem insignifact cause-effect wise.
      • I'd blame my fingers for thinking on their own, but I missed all the mistakes in preview mode too. There's gotta be a pill for this.
      • Minnesota was closer to being red in the latest election than almost any time in the last century

        Couldn't that be said for most states during the last election?
        • True, but MN was for the first time in my lifetime considered to be a swing state in the last election.
          • It was briefly considered a swing state, more for sensationalism then for substance. Kerry carried the state by ~4%.

            True, it was closer than say 1984, but that was to be expected in a nation so equally divided by so many things (War, economic issues). Make no mistake though, MN is still very much a liberal state.

            The important thing to note also that MN has a very strong tradtion of 3rd parties, and that may have figured into it as well.

            http://uselectionatlas.org/USPRESIDENT/state.php?y ear=2004&fips=2
    • Your post stinks of a fallacy of questionable cause.
    • by Jason Earl (1894) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:22PM (#15071823) Homepage Journal

      Don't get too excited. If it wasn't for Governor Mitt Romney (R) ODF in Massachussets would be dead, and it's primary opponent was state senator Marc Pacheco (D).

    • You've clearly never been to non-metro Minnesota.
      • Yes, I grew up in non-metro MN, and true it is much more conservative then in ther twin cities. However, there still exists a stong liberal streak. Not necessairly on issues like gay rights, or even open documents, but more on issues of economic opportunity, and equality. I think much of that sentiment grew out of the agricultural base and farmers and their families knowing the hardships of having the 'deck stacked against them'. Where did you go in non-metro MN? Not to troll, but am curious as I grew
    • I don't know what a "blue history" is but both states start with a "M". It has to mean something !

      Like... ummm... Macaroni ?
  • by jdray (645332) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:32PM (#15071488) Homepage Journal
    I keep seeing these stories about governments deciding to legislate the internal usage of ODF. Is the standard really ready for prime time? I can't say I know much about the details of ODF (if anything), but it seems like it's such a new standard that there are likely issues that would need to be worked out before it's so widely adopted.

    Having said that, I think it's high time our public offices stop feeding monopolistic practices by continuing with document format requirements that more or less pre-determine software choice.
    • Well, (Score:5, Insightful)

      by XanC (644172) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:36PM (#15071510)
      We know a hell of a lot more about ODF than we do about .doc, and that hasn't slowed it down.
      • and we will *CONTINUE* to know a lot more about ODF, no matter what happens to the standard. The same in no way can be said about the .doc format, which has an ever increasing number of peculiarities and differences with each different version of Office. All closed and hidden.
    • "it's such a new standard that there are likely issues that would need to be worked out"

      This didn't happen with .doc since the most obvious problem with it is still trying to be addressed today. Sarcasm mostly aside, I think OASIS might be looking (or have looked) into these issues.
    • by iabervon (1971) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:11PM (#15071740) Homepage Journal
      The MN bill is not specific to ODF. It would require use of some open format (i.e., one which is clearly specified and may be implemented without license restrictions) if such a format is available. Under this bill, ODF would only be required if it is, in fact, ready.

      The MA situation doesn't involve legislation, but is an executive order from the IT department. The IT department is responsible for implementing the switch, and there's no reason it couldn't abandon the project if it turned out to be unworkable. They're also perfectly able to make exceptions for cases where they can't get it to work or simply don't feel like dealing (if someone had an extremely complex Word macro that they use a lot, and the ITD couldn't figure out how to do it in ODF, they could just shrug and let it go), because it's just a policy, not a law.

      With respect to the maturity of ODF, it was developed by a group of organizations which, between them, are likely to have all of the needs that anyone has. For example, the Society for Biblical Literature was an active member of the technical committee. This may be a bit surprising, until you realize that they've got at least one document (a translation of the bible) in every known living language, documents in many dead languages, and things like illuminated hand-written manuscripts. Additionally, ODF was designed to include the concepts in Microsoft Office formats (based on existing converters and on inspection of the interface presented to the user).
      • by denttford (579202) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @09:30PM (#15072535) Homepage
        Just as an aside, but the SBL isnt a religious group seeking to distribute the bible, its an very well respected academic society which publishes both books of academic interest (usually in Engligh, sometimes in German, and others) and maintains a peer journal, usually focusing on the ancient near east (not so many illuminated manuscripts, but if someone were writing on biblical translations in the middle ages, sure). That a group of historians, linguists, archeologist, sociologists, etc. might want to have a say in a document format meant to be distributable, portable, and designed to last isnt all that surprising.

        Moreover, I suspect they may have more technical insight than most - LTR/RTL, printed and script, heavy diacritical use, cuneiform, IPA and other transliteration schemes, etc. are technical hurdles they've been dealing with for quite some time now in both printed and electronic format. They have even been freely distributing a Hebrew font [sbl-site.org] for years.

        Just wanted to clear that up, lest people think they are a group of bible thumpers or modern monks (e-monks?).
        • I didn't mean to imply that they were missionaries, let alone fundamentalists. I was a bit carelessly suggesting that they did translations of the bible; but I'd assume that all translations of the bible are relevant to their work, so they'd have some familiarity with the issues involved in documents in modern written languages with odd features, in addition to odd ancient languages that relate to their work.

          And it is a bit unusual for a group of humanities academics to get involved in technology, unfortuna
    • Well it only needs to be better than DOC and WordML... StarOffice/OpenOffice has about ten years of practical use in an Office Suite (not just a word processor, they had to consider integration), and then it went through a standardisation process (one that MS withdrew from). It's supported by OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, and KOffice.

      The format itself is a zip file with some xml and image files, etc. It's very easy to use.

      I'm unrelated to the OOo project or ODF, but as my .sig says I write a converter that d

    • State governments have fairly large IT and IS departments. Its not like they can't handle minor problems as they arise.
    • I think it's high time our public offices stop feeding monopolistic practices by continuing with document format requirements that more or less pre-determine software choice.

      That is a fantastic idea, and I completely agree with it. Basically what you're suggesting, it sounds like, is that we have document format requirements that actually guarantee any software provider the legal right to implement support for the format chosen. I totally support that.

      Yes, that would be a great cure for the abuse of mon

    • I keep seeing these stories about governments deciding to legislate the internal usage of ODF. Is the standard really ready for prime time?

      I'm far from any real expert on the format, but at my job, I have done some fairly non-trivial conversions of technical documentation (in DITA XML, if anyone cares) into ODF, and while what I'm doing is fairly rough (it's an in-house use sort of thing) the format does seem to support all the basic concepts of a word processing document... page layouts, running headers/f

    • I keep seeing these stories about governments deciding to legislate the internal usage of ODF. Is the standard really ready for prime time? I can't say I know much about the details of ODF (if anything), but it seems like it's such a new standard that there are likely issues that would need to be worked out before it's so widely adopted.

      It's not ready. I'm a koffice user and I keep seeing problems - not big ones, but problems - where the standard is ambiguous and it ends up being koffice changing to what o

  • by my $anity 0 (917519) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:36PM (#15071513)
    I am glad. Open Standards should be, well, the standard. If it passes there, and similar ones in other states, everyone will be able to read important gov't files without surrendering their freedom of choice, and the files will not become locked in an abandoned format. Hopefully the Federal Government will see the light.
  • it's nice to see the guys and gals in St. Paul talking about something other than that same-sex marriage ban. Now if the house, senate and governor could agree on a bonding bill thing might be looking up.
  • by orkysoft (93727) <orkysoft.myrealbox@com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:41PM (#15071555) Journal
    While the amendment does not refer to open source software, the definition of 'open standards' that it contains would be conducive to open source implementations of open standards.

    But this isn't about Open Source, it's about Open Standards, two orthogonal issues. Of course, Open Source is preferable, but it's not required to have Open Standards. Microsoft could add ODF support to its next version of MS Office (which they'll of course try to resist for as long as possible, as it'll kill their market lock-in), and it would be viable as a software supplier, but it'd have to compete on ease of use, price, robustness, etc.. It'd have to compete on its merits for once, instead of being the mandatory choice because of the current platform lock-in (even though OpenOffice.org does an excellent job interoperating with MS Office files).

    • by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <sherwin@nosPam.amiran.us> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:18PM (#15071799) Homepage Journal
      No, I think you're incorrect.

      MS will incorporate ODF, and will do it very badly.

      Same as with the web. You'll have to have an OpenOffice.org ODF, and MS Office ODF, and the two will not meet without quirks in OpenOffice.org

      It's going to be ugly. MS's resistance is just their first bit of opposition.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Open Standards are far more important. Most people do not care about the source code availability of a program, they only care about their data. If they can read their data with any program closed or open source, they'll love it.
      Computer users would not put up with image format XYZ only working in program XYZ and image format ABC only working in program ABC, etc. They choose open formats. The programs using open formats then compete on functionality not lock-in.
      An Open Standard also helps with data longevit
  • by NatteringNabob (829042) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:43PM (#15071566)
    The real key to any 'open standard' is that it be implementable without payment of royalties or encumberments of any kind. That is what makes ODF or Ogg Vorbis 'open standards' and MS Office formats and MP3 non-open standards. Open standards are great for consumers and voters because it means they can buy which ever standard conforming product best suits their needs, and that encourages true competition. Vendors like Microsoft will off course complain loudly, but it isn't supposed to be about what is best for the vendors, it is supposed to be about what is best for the citizens, and Minnesota seems to understand that better than most. I expect that Microsoft will go in with all guns blazing to derail this proposal.
    • Royalties (Score:3, Informative)

      by Craig Ringer (302899)
      With the latest MS Office XML license, I don't think there's any chance royalties might be required. The only real remaining issue is that the license doesn't make much of a guarantee about future versions, but IIRC MS released a binding statement addressing this. I would have to go and hunt up the details now to be 100% sure. Just be aware that there's a LOT of outdated information and misconceptions about what they're doing (and they didn't help by ignoring many questions for long periods, giving roundabo
      • Re:Royalties (Score:2, Informative)

        With the latest MS Office XML license, I don't think there's any chance royalties might be required. ...

        Actually, despite a lot of non-committal grunts, that's not announced yet one way or the other even for current versions of MOOX and its current licenses. Obviously MS knows the licenses are going to be scrutinized carefully so the odds of any gotchas being easy to spot are low. I'd be really careful about the wording in the license anyway. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if MOOX were dependent

  • by d_jedi (773213) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:44PM (#15071571)
    ASCII text is an "open data format".. and all word processors support that.
    • Not quite. Last time I checked Microsoft still refuses to support the proper \n line break. Opening my text files in notepad causes all sorts of pain.

      Yeah, Microsoft, again.
    • The characters from 128 through 255 are implementation-specific, the standard does not define them. (For this reason, any ASCII character set that goes into the undefined region may not be compatiable with other implementations, as it would be entirely possible to add things like continuation bits, etc, without violating the ASCII standard, but breaking all portability.)

      The actions taken as a result of characters from 0 through 31 are specific to the implementation and circumstance. (An embedded motherboard

    • ASCII text is an "open data format".. and all word processors support that.

      You went for the humor mod, and there's nothing wrong with that, but once you unzip an ODF file, you actually have ASCII text. (Well, strictly, something like utf8-encoded XML files, but notepad/wordpad handles them decently... smart-quotes notwithstanding, but they're evil anyway. ;)

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <.gro.uaeb. .ta. .sirromj.> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:51PM (#15071607)
    Thousands and thousands of bills are introduced in legislatures around the US and worldwide it is probably a million or more. Far fewer pass and even fewer of those make it th erest of the way into becoming a law. (For the civics challenged/non-US readers: In most US states it will also need a sponsor in the other legislative body, passage in both bodies and either signing into law by the Governor or another vote to override a veto.)

    It is good that such an idea is starting to bubble up, but it has yet to pass into law ANYWHERE at this point. The political power, wealth and proven tendency to resort to outright illegal measures of the Foe is going to make this a long difficult struggle.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is a lovely gesture. But ultimately I'm not sure it means a lot. This is a loophole the size of an 18-wheeler:

    where the other requirements of a project do not make it technically impossible to do this

    The thing is, 90% of government purchasing is steered by very, very careful tailoring of the claimed "requirements". The way government purchasing works, what this bill is very likely to do is just make it so all procurement requests are written up in such a way that it is "impossible" for a format to meet
    • by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:57PM (#15071648)
      This is very true. But there is a reason for this "carefully worded" requirments. All too often, vendors lie about their specs. "Sure, we're section 508 compliant" and in reality all it means is that they have alt tags on their images.

      So, what happens, is you specify all your requirements, and in reality, only a few vendors meet those requirements, but a dozen or so "cheaper" vendors who meet the specs on paper end up winning the contract, and then we're stuck with crap.

      This has lead to requirements being VERY specific, so that you don't end up with something that barely does what it claims to.
  • NOT! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ossifer (703813) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:52PM (#15071612)
    the Minnesota CIO will be required to enforce a law requiring the use of open formats, rather than be forced to justify his or her authority to do so.
    No, he or she will now be forced to justify his or her authority to NOT do so, i.e. (s)he'll have to make up some excuse to just keep on microsoftin'...
  • Put simply... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dirtside (91468) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:54PM (#15071620) Journal
    ...it is the responsibility of a democratic government to be as open and transparent as possible, whenever possible. Saying that the tool chosen should be "the best tool for the job" must take openness into strong account when that tool is for use by the government.
  • MECC (Score:4, Informative)

    by ScottCooperDotNet (929575) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:54PM (#15071621)
    Too bad Minnesota sold off MECC, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. [wikipedia.org] "The state of Minnesota spun off the company as a private corporation in the late 1980s. It was bought by a venture capitalist for $5 million, who sold it less than a year later to The Learning Company for $250 million."

    Government assisted-funding software could again have a positive impact as MECC did. OOo, Mozilla, etc. SE Linux even...

    • Re:MECC (Score:3, Informative)

      by BenFranske (646563)
      For those that aren't aware MECC was responsible for those memorable educational games in the late 1980s and early 90s. Most notably Number Munchers and Oregon Trail.
  • This is a big bonus for more open standards, but what is not mentioned is the reality of landing the PO/contract for all of those potential Microsoft licenses will still strongly favor incumbents because they can come up with a triple-special licensing bundle for OS+Office Productivity that can't be beat.

    Sadly enough, it puts the burden on WordPerfect to support ODF. Which isn't coming real soon. http://www.linux-watch.com/news/NS7758948461.html [linux-watch.com] I think Wordperfect is the preferred word processor in the
  • And finally, if two states successfully adopt and implement open data format policies, other states will be more inclined to follow.

    This will be great, until, just as they're trying to do with food labelling standards, the federal government makes a law with a new standard that specifically invalidates any state laws that are more restrictive.

    But I guess you can't blame the lobbyists... would you rather bribe..err..payoff..err, I mean, lobby a handful of people in one town, or have to spread your efforts ac
  • I don't see why these bills even qualify as news.

    There is nothing GNU about these.
  • by MoogMan (442253) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:10PM (#15071735)
    I'd love to see it become more than just Open "Formats"... it should also include Protocols. e.g. MS Exchange. Exchange essentially locking people into using MS Outlook.
  • Minn, home of Wellstone, Gopher, and MECC. I have to find out who'se sponsoring this bill and give them my vote. >>baci of duluth
  • Some people in the MN goverment think its a good idea to try to tack a Gay Marrage Ban on every bill. So I dont think it will pass.
  • Guys, you aren't looking at this correctly.

    This is not about some OpenSource community effort versus Microsoft.

    This is about a Sun/IBM alliance versus Microsoft. IBM and Sun are both quite capable in terms of political efforts. I'd put IBM way above Microsoft, for that matter. Sun's StarOffice for smaller organizations, IBM's Workplace for enterprise class, and OpenOffice.org to fill in various gaps.

    Fortunately, this is not David versus Goliath. This is more like clash of the titans, and in terms of wooing
  • by waferhead (557795) <waferhead.yahoo@com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:29PM (#15071880)
    All this will accomplish is MS opening it's wallet, encouraging large "contributions" to varois politicians it never hear of before.

    OTOH, might be a way to eventually bleed MS dry, eh? ;-)
    (Might take 1000 years...must take the long view)
  • Impossible ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:49PM (#15072017) Homepage
    The beautiful flip-side to this is a play on words. They will use open standards unless it's technically impossible to do, which really just means a lot of people will say "It's impossible to do function Y in format Z, I'm sticking with MSWord". It's not so much about impossibility, as it is about ignorance.
    • But then the IT can shift burden of proof. User would need a source that shows that they can't do function Y in format Z. This would only be one step.
    • Add fiscally impossible as well. I work for an IT dept in the exec branch of the MN government. We have proprietary solutions up the wazoo whither it be MS or our imaging backbone which is proprietary to Unisys. The truth is, unless they are going to throw the $ at us to rewrite 10 years of code and pay for us to run new open backends while it takes us years to migrate it ain't gonna happen.
  • ...requirements.

    I recall, back in the days when IBM was the enemy, being told by someone that his boss handed him a copy of the specs for a 360/370 clone and a copy of Principles of Operation and told to find some difference betweeen the two. I imagine that difference was written into a requirements specification so that only the IBM iron would satisfy it.
  • Minnesota (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:54PM (#15072060)
    Being a Packer fan, I don't generally pay much attention to Minnesota. But if this passes, it might just be enough to get me to acknowledge that Minnesota is a state.
  • And to think the federal government thought a transfer of wealth to lawyers was necessary to combat Microsoft's monopoly. Good to see the M-states realize that they own their data, not their software vendor.
  • Write your State Representative right now, and express your support for HF3971 [state.mn.us], styled "Open data format usage by state agencies required", and HF3982 [state.mn.us], styled "Open source software usage by state agencies for creation of public documents required." The second bill says:

    For purposes of this section, "open source software" means software that: (1) is free for anyone to use, without payment of a royalty or other fee; and (2) can be used effectively without payment of a fee or royalty in combination with othe

  • Most gvt agencies are required by law to keep all the old records. Many of wich were created during the days of windows 3.1 and 3.2. For some odd reason documents created back then (this is all assuming they were made with microsoft office) can not be oppened with openoffice or any other present day software excluding microsoft office. Because the agencies will want to keep all their records uniform they will simply say that they prefer to keep using using microsoft office, and nothing will happen because
    • Reality is a hair different then you assume.

      I haven't tried it lately, but quite frequently those "ancient documents" open fine in OO.org, and DON'T in recent versions of Word. Not supported.

      I think I still have an ancient mac with system 6 and Word on floppy, probably v2x-v4x, V5 was too big for floppy based usage IIRC.

      I'll have to give it a go.

      You actually provided the PERFECT example of the reason for the law.
    • Most gvt[sic] agencies are required by law to keep all the old records. Many of wich[sic] were created during the days of windows 3.1 and 3.2. For some odd reason documents created back then (this is all assuming they were made with microsoft office) can not be oppened[sic] with openoffice or any other present day software excluding microsoft office.

      What an interesting assertion. It contradicts both my personal experience and the general consensus among IT workers. I have inherited many old .doc files o

  • I like open formats, but REQUIRING them would be a disaster.

    Does Microsoft Word file formats qualify as an "open format?"
    Does Adobe Photoshop file qualify as an "open format?"
    Does Quark Express document file qualify as an "open format?"
    Does an Oracle database count as an "open format?"

    As far as I can see, all this proposal would do is to:

    (1) Stop the state government from using a TREMENDOUS amount of useful software.
    (2) Incur insane compliance costs when trying to get employees not to save in the

    • Not to mention that if we put it in an open format, citizens will not be able to open it and will call up complaining and we'll have to talk them through it.

      You haven't lived until you've tried to explain to a cranky 80 year old what acrobat reader is, nevermind open office.

      The real problem is that the open standards aren't useful for people and the standards that are used aren't open.
    • by BenFranske (646563) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @08:43PM (#15072309) Homepage
      Yes, believe it or not. You obviously haven't ever read many state statues, I suggest you do, it can be both educational and entertaining. They always start off by defining terms. In this case:

      "Open standards" means specifications for the encoding and transfer of computer data that:
      (1) is free for all to implement and use in perpetuity, with no royalty or fee;
      (2) has no restrictions on the use of data stored in the format;
      (3) has no restrictions on the creation of software that stores, transmits, receives, or accesses data codified in such way;
      (4) has a specification available for all to read, in a human-readable format, written in commonly accepted technical language;
      (5) is documented, so that anyone can write software that can read and interpret the complete semantics of any data file stored in the data format;
      (6) if it allows extensions, ensures that all extensions of the data format are themselves documented and have the other characteristics of an open data format;
      (7) allows any file written in that format to be identified as adhering or not adhering to the format;
      (8) if it includes any use of encryption, provides that the encryption algorithm is usable on a royalty-free, nondiscriminatory manner in perpetuity, and is documented so that anyone in possession of the appropriate encryption key or keys is able to write software to unencrypt the data.
  • I'm a big proponent of Open Systems, and have been for years.

    If you look at this solely in terms of word processing, yeah it makes sense.

    But consider a database product like say Oracle. Since they don't document the file format, they're in violation of this bill. Yet it's relatively trivial to extract data from an Oracle database and use it elsewhere. And if your app uses ANSI SQL you can move relatively easily between Oracle and other database servers. Hence the historical definition of Open Systems, a
    • The first thing I thought about when I saw the article was the problem with data formats such as Oracle's database. After reading the amendment, I noticed the rules apply only to formats for encoding and transfer. That would presumably not include backend files. Though I still think the bill is overly broad, it looks like the person who wrote it wasn't a complete idiot.
  • Just you wait for it..

    I mean we don't need open standards -- we need we need competition, er, innovation, er, securit... uhm... you know what I mean!

  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @12:11AM (#15073318) Homepage Journal
    I certainly support the idea that Govt and public-domain agencies should use file formats that are royalty free, published, and ideally, with a source-code reference implementation for reading them (assuming they aren't self-describing) and a bunch of sample documents to use as test data for said reference implementation.

    What might be surprising is that I hold this view inspite of being a Microsoft Employee. While I certainly want as many people as possible using MS software, I want them doing so because it's the best choice for their situation. I'd like to think that Word can deliver more value to its users than the ability to open Word files, so if govt agencies want to mandate that documents be created, shared, stored, etc in published, royalty-free formats, that's fine with me. Government agencies are a large customer of ours, so hopefully government action around requiring open file formats will push us to make our tools best-of-breed for dealing with those formats, or may even push us to open some of our own.

    I don't use WMA for my music files, even though I could just email the guy that designed it if I have a problem. Just because I can today, doesn't mean I can 5 years from now. And there won't ever be a supported WMA player for something like OpenBSD, which might otherwise be a perfectly good audio appliance.

    Now here's where I explain the title. As much as I am for the idealistic POV that open formats should be used where possible, I also beleive that govt is amazingly effective at turning a good idea into a bad law. (See also: 99% of current US laws). Another comment suggested that this story is more about Sun/IBM fighting MS via legislation, as opposed to some ideological position that is being done for the best interests of the people. If that's true, it's unfortuneate that our govt is continuing to do these sorts of things that are allegedly in the best intersts of "the people" but no one can explain exactly how, and ultimately, other businesses or politicians seem to derive the most benefit.

  • In so many ways and so often government has picked up the ball where few others would. Where ideas that aren't popular, that are too expensive, or that appear to risk all, government is regularly mandated to take on the challenge we would not as individuals, groups or businesses.

    Whether building dams in Nevada or sending Americans to the moon, it is the one entity that can face risk of failure and not flinch. In part this is because it represents our collective courage to attempt the impossible.

    For this re
  • I wholeheartedly approve. For years, one of my biggest and most complicated tasks has been the transfer of data from source A to target B. Usually A is in a format that is undocumented and inconsistent. Reverse-engineering can be a nightmare when formats are badly designed (although that explains why they are often considered propietary) and used randomly. You would be surprised by the vast number of programmers who neglect to start a file with an identification tag and format version number.

    I would happi

  • I'm so glad this is a "we must use open formats" bill, and not a "we must use open source" bill. Open Source software can lock you in to closed formats almost as badly as proprietary software can, simply by putting an undocumented format/interface/protocol behind a complex API.

    It's a depressingly common situation to find oneself in: Reverse-engineering a protocol or format by playing with inputs and looking at outputs because that's easier than decoding (hah) the source that generates it.
  • if they're using G.729 to save bandwidth on their Cisco Call Manager based VoIP deployments?

    Unlike the other ITU-T G.X voice standards, G.729 requires licensing fees to the patentholders.
  • Microsoft is trying to get their .doc format certified through ISO. But will it be truly open after that? Or are there patents on it that will prevent open source projects from utilizing it?

If this is timesharing, give me my share right now.

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