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Software

Massachusetts Adopting 'Open Format' Software 273

XopherMV writes "A Massachusetts state senator who had complained about the state government's effort to promote open-source software at the expense of proprietary software has hailed the state's effort to reach a compromise over future software purchases by the state. The latest iteration of the state's policy emphasizes 'Open Formats' such as TXT, RTF, HTM, PDF, and XML." And if file formats for state use must be in truly open and free formats, then it matters much less what OS or application is used to create or open them. (On the other hand, XML and other TLAs don't always mean free or open formats.)
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Massachusetts Adopting 'Open Format' Software

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  • True, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by professorhojo ( 686761 ) * on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:21AM (#11447017)
    >On the other hand, XML and other TLAs don't
    >always mean free or open formats.

    This is true, but XML documents themselves are also considerably more open than their binary counterparts. Anyone can parse a well-formed XML document, and validate it if a DTD is provided. While companies may still create XML that behaves in a specific way bound to their application, the data in the XML document is available to any application. While developers could create obfuscated DTDs or encrypt their data in a proprietary manner, they would lose most of the benefits of using XML. XML doesn't bar the creation of proprietary formats, but its openness is one of its greatest advantages.
    • Re:True, but... (Score:5, Informative)

      by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <rustypNO@SPAMfreeshell.org> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:31AM (#11447037) Homepage Journal
      While developers could create obfuscated DTDs or encrypt their data in a proprietary manner, they would lose most of the benefits of using XML.

      I think you're missing what Microsoft would consider the benefits of XML. Namely, that they could create obfuscated DTDs and encrypt their data in a proprietary manner while still using it, thus convincing the masses that they're using an open format while not actually using one. They're actually doing this with their html exporter now.

      Another thing they like to do is put bugs and workarounds into their code that no one else knows about (of course, they only do this in places they own the marketshare). Their RTF encoder is riddled with these.

      So...I think the only fair thing to do is to make an open format and make the government-approved reference implementation open source.
      • Re:True, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:35AM (#11447050) Homepage
        "Namely, that they could create obfuscated DTDs and encrypt their data in a proprietary manner while still using it, thus convincing the masses that they're using an open format while not actually using one."

        But they won't. They can't. Microsoft has a history of sticking with the original file format they created along with 1.0 of the application. Today's Word docs have a lot "tacked on", but they still have the basic structure openable by the original Word.

        WordML (Microsoft's XML structure for Word docs) is fairly clear-cut. They can "obfuscate", but they won't, because people'll will want those original files openable in 10-15 years. Backwards compatibility is a huge goal at MS.
        • Re:True, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <rustypNO@SPAMfreeshell.org> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @08:01AM (#11447104) Homepage Journal
          Today's Word docs have a lot "tacked on", but they still have the basic structure openable by the original Word.

          Word documents are not backward compatible, except in a few lucky cases, despite the fact that most of the functionality is the same. Have you even tried this? Word XP documents don't work in Word 97; 97 don't work in 95, and I would assume it goes back even farther.

          I think a better claim would be "backwards compatibilty is a huge thing to avoid at MS" considering that almost no new functionality has been added to word in the past 10 years and yet the document format has changed.
          • Re:True, but... (Score:5, Informative)

            by purplemonkeydan ( 214160 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @08:34AM (#11447182)
            Have you even tried this? Word XP documents don't work in Word 97

            Have you tried this? On a recent trip for work, my company laptop had Word XP (2002) installed, the machines at the client site used Word 97. There were no problems whatsoever with compatibility.

            Office is generally pretty good with forward and backwards compatibility.

            • Re:True, but... (Score:5, Informative)

              by theguyfromsaturn ( 802938 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @09:44AM (#11447326)
              You must be using extremely simple documents... basically plain text. My supervisor and his other grad students use different versions of Word (I'm not sure which one), but all the the figure positions, get screwed up, equations get put everywhere, and it's a general mess. I manage to maintain compatibily with both of those guys by not using Word but OpenOffice instead. It's actually this lack of compatibility between Word versions that got one of the other grad students to switch to OpenOffice, which was better at handling different versions of Word documents than Word itself.
              • >You must be using extremely simple documents...
                >the figure positions, get screwed up, equations get put everywhere.

                Equations? Academic papers?

                In general, your documents are complex, not others are simple.
              • MS Word is pretty much backwards compatible through Word 97. Word's format WAS changed in the transistion from 95 to 97 (needing import filters when opening old documents), but since then, the output has been of the same type. I jump between Word XP, 2000, and 97 all the time with nary a problem. And some of these documents are pretty complex, as far as Word goes. Most of the differences in 2000 and XP are just feature creep, nothing more. That's why so many shops dragged thier feet on upgrading office suit
            • by Sylvius ( 670730 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @09:49AM (#11447349)
              The last time I was sendout out resumes (a lot of places want a doc file), I opened it in multiple versions of word. The file always opened, but the formating got changed. Sometimes it all fit on one page as intended, other times it would spill over onto two pages, etc. So for times when formatting is critical, word is not truly backwards compatible. You are better off exporting to pdf...
              • Employers should be more accepting of PDFs because of formatting issues, and because of the potential macro viruses. I have Word97, but I really resent the assumption that I have spent money on a particular program.
            • Re:True, but... (Score:2, Informative)

              by Val314 ( 219766 )
              i've just tried opening a Word 5.0 Document in Word 2003 and it wont work.

              there is a Converter Pack from Ms for those ancient .docs but this wont install on 2003 (but it works fine with 2003)

              so no, Word 1.0 file formats are not even close to being compatible with the current version
            • I concur, backward and forwards compatibility is good in Microsoft Word and quite good in Microsoft Excel. I think Microsoft Access is neither forward not backwards compatible between version releases, however. Which is annoying.

              I'm not sure about Publisher or Visio (or whatever it is called), since I've never used them. I do have to use the basic three pieces for (highly Microsoft-biased) school work, though. If it wasn't for Words Forward/Backward compatibility, my grades would've been lower.
              • I concur, backward and forwards compatibility is good in Microsoft Word

                I find that it is terrible for all but the simplest of documents. I normally use it when writing papers. When I'm writing with others maintaining the required formatting, with diagrams in the right places becomes a task in and of itself. Even when I'm just writing by myself Word can do some very odd things to the document.

            • depends what features you use.
            • It works with simple documents only. I once had to move a large document with lots of tab formatting (it had to be done that way, since there was no regularity in the required formatting) and inserted special symbols between Word 2.0 and Word 95, using the latter's "export" feature. It was one hell of a nightmare.
            • as many people have pointed out in response to you, opening word documents in different versions of word will cause the document to be displayed differently.

              This is true. However, that has nothing to do with the big picture. Open documents are documents, not documents and clients/readers/editors. Take any of the open formats in the original story and the same is true: opening in different clients will cause changes in the way the document is displayed. That is not the point, the point is that the docum
            • On my company machine, I too have office XP installed.
              However, the friendly IT-folks have configured it to save in Office 2000 format, the current low denominator. In a couple of years, when we've gotten rid of the Office 2000 machines, the new machines will be configured to write XP format.

              Call it a rolling upgrade.
          • In practice, you can save back to older versions of Word or Excel, but you get alarming warnings that new features may not be saved. It doesn't tell you *what* part of your work is going to be lost, so most ordinary folk get a bit antsy and save it in the current version.

            On the original point, this decision could work really well for MS and the gub'mnt. Data is kept in a fairly future proof, open format, but you can do something like patent your ingeneous schema to prevent other people from using it.

            Xix.
            • You get similar warnings from OO saving a document in .doc format, even if that was the original format. *Most* applications I've used have similar warnings where appropriate; saving in non-native formats can most certainly lead to loss of formatting (oe even data), but it's almost impossible to tell the user exactly what will be different for any given document.
        • Re:True, but... (Score:2, Informative)

          Actually, Microsoft Office's XML exporter has two or three different behaviors depending on which version is used. IIRC, only the Professional and Enterprise editions export clean XML while the Personal editions only save in some proprietary description.

          Artificial market segmentation appears to have become a primary hobby at Microsoft. First there was XP Home and Pro but now there is also Starter, MediaCenter and TabletPC editions. It really bugs me how MS labels the standard edition "Pro" and how it artif
    • by hweimer ( 709734 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @08:16AM (#11447135) Homepage
      This is true, but XML documents themselves are also considerably more open than their binary counterparts.

      <Byte Offset="0x1234">83</Byte>
      <Byte Offset="0x1235">117</Byte>
      <Byte Offset="0x1236">114</Byte>
      <Byte Offset="0x1237">101</Byte>
      <Byte Offset="0x1238">63</Byte>
      • Flamebait? How is this flamebait? This is one of the funniest posts I've seen in a while! For those who don't get it, look up the numbers in an ASCII table.
    • who would assume that the "closed" xml format would be well-formed?

      could be patent protected too - while still being 100% open.
    • Re:True, but... (Score:2, Interesting)

      the data in the XML document is available to any application

      Not with any meaningful intepretaion. The problem is there no information about the meaning of the terms that appear nor about the meaning of the absence of terms.

      Even with a DTD/schema all you get is syntactic information - it doesn't tell you what anything actually means without getting access to documentation.

      Good specification documentation that is freely available and freely implementable makes something open.
    • So much for being more readable...
    • parse this one :

      aGVsbG8gc2xhc2hkb3Q=

      part of a valid xml document

      XML does not guarantee any kind or portability

    • Re:True, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 10am-bedtime ( 11106 )

      you can pour a gallon of perfume on shit, but it is still shit.

      if you accept "open on the outside but proprietary on the inside" you do not understand what it takes to be truly open. you have lost to the marketeers and spin artists, and given up your only true possession -- your mind and its ability to think critically.

    • but XML documents themselves are also considerably more open than their binary counterparts.

      Not at all...

      <Document Type="MSWord">
      (binary crap) .. is a perfectly well-formed XML document. Its not parsable into a anything sane though.
    • Anyone can parse a well-formed XML document, and validate it if a DTD is provided.

      In other words, XML makes it easier to reverse-engineer somebody else's format. That's cool, but it just doesn't make that much of difference for word processor or spreadsheet files. The format of Microsoft .doc and .xls files is actually pretty well documented. Parsing them is a nightmare, but the hard work has already been done.

      The real problem with these files is that they're very poorly structured. You express this l

  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:25AM (#11447023)
    This is not the first time we at /. have seen states and countries go this route but they almost always end up back with Microsoft but with a discount on their licence.

    I don't know about you guys but I won't believe it until I see office workers using it, before then it is just a negotiation ploy to save some money with Microsoft (Why else announce it early?)..
    • Not in the case of Massachusetts. Look at the state's history with Microsoft -- they were the only ones not to cave in with regards to the antitrust case, and there are numerous stories [zopezen.org] regarding their ongoing efforts to better embrace open source.

      I see the announcement both as a way to encourage the regular rank & file and the various commonwealth communities to embrace the efforts more than it is an effort to gain some ground negotiating with Microsoft.

      • With Microsoft's history of forcing upgrades, closed file formats, etc, it's no wonder that a government would want to seek alternatives.

        They want to be able to open an archive of documents in 20+ years. What if Microsoft stopped making office? What if the only versions of Office you could get for Windows 2030 won't open an Office 97 document correctly?

        With open standards to the file formats, it's fairly trivial to write parsing software to bring the documents into new software correctly, not to mention
      • Not in the case of Massachusetts. Look at the state's history with Microsoft

        Yeah, we still have the quaint idea that public officials and employees are supposed to work for the people. We even more or less treat them with the same level of respect we'd treat anyone else. Consequently, we occasionally get some actual initiative on their part.

        On the other hand, our legislature would be an embarassment if the national standards weren't so low. What do you expect in a state with a one party monopoly? I
  • PDF (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:27AM (#11447026)
    Adobe certain has done its job in making PDF so common place that it's become an "open" format, hasn't it?
    I think that for specific purposes proprietary formats are ok, but for interchanging and for storage purposes, the open formats are important.
    • Re:PDF (Score:5, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:29AM (#11447032) Journal
      PDF is an open format. The specifications are available for free download and no license fee is required to implement it. It is controlled by a single entity (Adobe), rather than by a committee (e.g. the w3c), but it is no less open.
      • Re:PDF (Score:3, Informative)

        For those you interested you can check the PDF Reference [adobe.com].
      • I recently had to fill out a form that required Adope Acrobat Reader 6.something to open properly, a version which is not available for Linux.

        (I think the extension is .asx, or maybe .apx -- at any rate, it's got some parts that render correctly, and some that are oh-so-secret and don't appear unless using a new enough AA Reader, by design.)

        After no reader in Linux would work, I decided to try it with my iBook. Apple's preview also won't show the hidden parts -- it actually demands AA Reader. Sigh. So I d
    • PDF is an open format, just like RTF, which was created by Microsoft (who still controls the specification).
      • Unlike PDF, almost everybody has added extensions to RTF for things like embedded images and so it is a pain trying to persuade different applications that produce RTF to play nicely together (unless they all use the same RTF library). To complicate things even more, Apple have adopted NeXT's RTFD format, which stores RTF documents as a directory containing an RTF document and a load of images files for anything that's embedded - it's a nice way of doing things but completely incompatible with anything els
  • HTM? HTM? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:34AM (#11447047)

    HTM is the filename suffix that broken operating systems like Windows used to assign to HTML files. The document format is called HTML.

  • Great but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BlueYoshi ( 670106 )

    I think it's good because it will permit people/company to interact and be able to exchange document without to be forced to use some particular software.

    But I think if you take XML, we need to have some effort to produce some standards DTD or XML-schema to be sure to have a real interoperability

    Also it will be neccesary to have some kind of validator for each format to force that everybody is using the real standard and not some fancy extension that could ruin the all idea

  • XML, RTF ... open? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    By thinking of XML as an "open" format they are walking right into Microsofts little trap... Try decoding Office-XML sometime. Or my little XML format here: <blob>()Yyfoas/FGTif</blob>.

    (Of course, they don't trust that people really can't decipher it, so they protected it heavily with patents too.

    It's like saying ASCII is an open format. That's right, but ... there's something written in ASCII too, is that format open? Like RTF, which is written in ASCII but *not* open.

    • I've worked with WordML. The only binary I saw was embedded images, encoded in plain old base64. Everything else was plain text.

      Granted, there were features in the DTD that weren't in the spec, but I was using a pre-release documentation set, so hopefully they've gone back and fully updated things. Besides, everything was in the DTD, so if you had to, you could look at how it's supposed to work.

      Try reading through the documentation and some WordML files of your own, instead of just talking out of your
  • by idlake ( 850372 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @07:54AM (#11447088)
    If they are serious about enforcing open document formats, that's good: open source can compete and win if formats are open. The big concern is that companies like Microsoft will try to portray their proprietary formats as "open". For example, the DOC format has been documented by Microsoft, but it isn't truly open because it keeps changing and because it is under Microsoft's control. In particular, XML is not an open format--it isn't a format at all; XML is a standard in which people can define formats, both open and proprietary.

    A format isn't open until it has actually been standardized by an independent body that can guarantee that it is free from patent or other claims, and until it has been demonstrated that it can be implemented independtly by actually doing so.
    • Standard bodies move so slowly that they are useless for developing the first solution to any problem or adding a major new feature. C and Javascript were long in use before ANSI or ECMA looked at them.

      What the standards are good for are ironing out small wrinkles like concatenating arguments in macros after millions on users have already chosen the technology and settled any major differences. The solutions are often kludgy, unsatisfactory and simply take the lowest common denominator rather than the most
  • by OblongPlatypus ( 233746 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @08:33AM (#11447179)
    Most commenters seem to be missing the fact that this news is unequivocally bad. There were efforts to adopt open source instead of closed source software, but this senator (probably sponsored by Microsoft) managed to talk them into focusing on open formats instead. This coincides nicely with Microsoft's new XML formats for their office products, and lets Massachusetts continue using Microsoft products while paying lip-service to the fans of "open" solutions.
    • How is the parent post insightful?

      It's the right way - mandate use of open formats and let the better software win!

      Since open source is better, it will win easily (since it has lower cost of ownership) - why do you consider this to be bad?

      • by OblongPlatypus ( 233746 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @10:03AM (#11447381)
        To clarify: I'm not saying open formats are bad. But in this case we went from an administration pushing open source products (which incidentally automatically means open formats), to one that's going to stick with Microsoft products. They wanted to change what software they were using, but were deflected into some vacuous statement about "open formats", and in reality no change at all.

        XML does not autmoatically mean "open format", at least not in the way you seem to be thinking. Even if everyone in the Massachusetts administration starts using exclusively WordML for their documents (including converting all old documents), any open-source product would still have the problem of relying on a format defined by the very same monopoly they're trying to compete with. WordML is patent-protected specifically to prevent the equivalent of a "fork" of the format, so anyone using it is completely at the mercy of Microsoft's whim on where to take the format in the future.
    • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @10:05AM (#11447397)
      You couldn't be more wrong if you tried.

      One of the main complaints about closed source software is that the proprietary, closed file formats keep you locked in to using the product, and that changes to said file formats tend to push you to upgrading because everyone else has, so you have to to be able to read their documents.

      Opening the file formats removes this restriction - now *anyone* can write software to create and edit them flawlessly. You're no longer tied to a single editor. How many .doc editors are there, compared to .html or .xml?

      Mandating open source software, while appearing good, would be a bad thing. Software should be used based on fitness for purpose; if the open source solution is superior, then use it. But don't use an inferior open source app just because it's open source if a superior closed source one is available and affordable. Mandating open file formats increases the likelihood that an appropriate open source solution will become available.
      • One of the main complaints about closed source software is that the proprietary, closed file formats keep you locked in

        Other valid complaints are the per-seat costs, upgrade costs, limited effectiveness of outside support, architecture lock-in, and a slow, costly route to get bug-fixes and new features implemented. And, of course, the threat of being left out-in-the-cold if the company stops offering the proprietary program (or if said company collapses).

        Mandating open source software, while appearing good

        • If the format is open, then an open sourced solution could be developed to deal with any issues with the proprietary software.

          If the file formats used are truly open (as in a decent standard that's well documented and actually works as it's described, which allows other applications to read and write in the same format without legal encumbrance), then the customer can take their data and have a new application or data converter written, allowing them to easily migrate to a new platform.

          That addre
          • If the format is open, then an open sourced solution could be developed to deal with any issues with the proprietary software.

            And, rather than throwing good money after bad to upgrade and maintain closed source software, public agencies should fund efforts to bring free open source software to the public. Perhaps they should keep proprietary software that has already been paid for, but as a taxpayer I want the most bang for my buck. This would be a strong argument against any commercial product that could

    • by tyen ( 17399 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:50AM (#11447840) Journal

      Policy, Not Mechanism.

      They are very close, but need some additions to nail this right. Everyone freaking out over XML being cited should read the article. Reading the original article, I note that they defined "open format" by policy and not mechanism:

      specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, and affirmed by a standards body; or, de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms.

      This means they really don't care about the actual format, they care about the terms of access to the format. Microsoft can't drive a DTD with encrypted blocks through a mechanism-based loophole simply by declaring, "Hey! Look! XML!".

      However.

      It is said that even the largest companies bear the imprint of their founders. Gates was raised by lawyers, and his company operates like one. Unless you adversarially test this legislation before it passes, I guarantee you Microsoft will find a perfectly legal way to protect their crown jewels if it passes. There are other big players who will fight tooth and nail against this legislation, too. Oracle. IBM's DB2 folks.

      It is unfortunate that I could not find on their web site [masoftware.org] a full explanation of what they meant by "open format". However, going by that small excerpted blurb, if I was thinking of legal and marketing workarounds, here are some things I can come up with off the cuff.

      1. Dilute or pervert one of the definitions of "open standard", "open community", or "standards body". No definition legislated, easy enough to do. Control the standards group, control the standard.
      2. Note that the clauses separated by a semicolon (;) stipulate access terms for the latter but not the former. Sure, place it with a standards group, but make it expensive to obtain the standard "to cover distribution costs". The EIA standard for racks for example, costs over $50 to obtain an electronic copy. Perfectly open, perfectly standard, but certainly not "royalty-free".
      3. Play the Internet Explorer bundle game again, on a different playing field. Make the default format of the application a proprietary format, and allow saving as the standards format as long as the user takes additional steps to configure it or specify the standard format. By default, the vast majority of users will deploy with the default setting, killing any standard format in the crib through sheer inertia.
      4. Sure, there is an open format. It just doesn't support all the features of the application.
      5. Twist the definition of "fully documented" because that term is not nailed down. Yup, it's fully documented. "The 'dynamic_index' field stores dynamic indexes". There. It's fully documented. What? You want to know what a dynamic index is? Oh, but that's a trade secret. Or here is the full format of the dynamic index data structure, "fully documented". Leave out enough adequate description of the semantics, and you can bamboozle nearly everyone, including yourself. Why do you think Microsoft themselves can't get their own Word format consistent across versions? You can take the Microsoft-is-Evil theory that they do this to "entice" their customers to upgrade, but I tend to think it is because the format is ambiguously documented enough that even their own smart programmers trip up on the specifications.
      6. Supply an open standard, but your implementation of the standard is different from the outside world's implementation(s). Hey, bugs happen. No reference implementation that everyone standardizes upon, not a problem to be just barely incompatible enough (without any need for evil conspiracies) to annoy users enough to make them stick with the original application. Coders who hack EDI systems can sympathize with me here; even when everyone agrees upon an implementation standard, a "data format dissonance" tend
    • This article [techweb.com] provides some insight. My guess is that this has very little to do with Microsoft, and a lot to do with proprietary software vendors based in Massachusetts.

      Pacheco, a Democrat, said the new policy is "perceived to be an exclusionary policy that excludes proprietary software." He is chairman of the Post Audit and Oversight Committee and said he has received "lots of calls" from software companies whose business revolves around proprietary software, many of whom are concerned that they will be

  • by dsaklad ( 162420 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @08:57AM (#11447219) Homepage
    Boston City Council sends by email public hearings notices for council committees like the Human Rights Committee. But our Boston City Council is unwilling to send the email as plain ASCII text instead of the .doc formatted public notices that are not so compatible.

    Maybe they want to preserve enbolded text as if that enbolded text was some sort of legal document. Maybe they want to preserve the image of a seal of the city. At the expense of wider more compatible distribution of important information our city council is even unwilling to put the full text of public hearings notices on the web site at http://cityofboston.gov/citycouncil [cityofboston.gov]

    An online calendar at the website does list the meetings minimally with no details. The full explanation for the purpose for holding the public hearing needs to be posted every time with an archive for reviewing past hearings.

    So much for a mandate of so called e-government !
  • TXT is not a format (Score:5, Informative)

    by Free Bird ( 160885 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @09:52AM (#11447356)
    A .TXT file is nothing more and nothing less than a plain text file. Ironically, it's only because of MS, champion of closed standards, that using the .TXT extension for these files has now become a de facto convention, but in the DOS age, other extensions such as .DOC or extensions that were basically part of the name (like README.1ST) or the total absence of an extension were also very common.
    • Actually, plain text files aren't standardized across platforms. Windows tends to use CRLF to show the end of a line, while Unixes use LF, And the old Macintosh used CR. Not sure if OSX uses LF or CR, because it's unix, but it's also Mac OS. Anyway, Microsoft is the only one that actually has it right, since if you think back to the old typewriter, you have to have a Carriage Return, and a Line Feed to get to the start of the next line when typing.
      • Microsoft is the only one that actually has it right, since if you think back to the old typewriter, you have to have a Carriage Return, and a Line Feed to get to the start of the next line when typing.
        This actually predates Microsoft. It goes back to CP/M, whose design inspired MS-DOS, and I believe to the DEC PDP operating systems like RSTS/E, whose design inspired CP/M.
      • Not sure if OSX uses LF or CR, because it's unix, but it's also Mac OS.

        The Mac, interestingly, is completely agnostic. It reads and writes 7-bit ASCII, Mac OS Roman, Windows Latin 1 and UTF-8 files with Mac, UNIX and DOS line endings with equal aplomb.

        Heck, TextEdit even opens Word files.
      • WTF? (Score:3, Informative)

        by spitzak ( 4019 )
        I am absolutely shocked that somebody would actually think this is true:

        if you think back to the old typewriter, you have to have a Carriage Return, and a Line Feed to get to the start of the next line when typing.

        Obviously you have never even seen a typewriter. On old typewriters the big silver bar on the left did both cr+lf. Electric ones had a key (where "Enter" is on your computer) that did both cr and lf. If you wanted to overprint, you did the return action, then turned the big knob on the left to
        • Also, OS/X [sic] uses LF, just like everything in the world except Microsoft

          Yet pretty much every standard that specifies how lines are terminated specifies CRLF. Some examples: FTP, POP, IMAP, HTTP, NNTP.

          CRLF is the world standard for line termination.

    • in the DOS age, other extensions such as .DOC or extensions that were basically part of the name (like README.1ST) or the total absence of an extension were also very common.

      I remember being very irritated when I realised that Microsoft Word had adopted .DOC as its standard file extension. At the time, it was a very common extension used everywhere else for text files in DOS (especially README.DOC), to the point where the MS Word developers couldn't possibly have missed it.

      The consequence? In a

  • Um (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DOS-5 ( 852324 )
    Since when do plain text files count as an "open format"? Is it just because someone hasn't tried to patent it yet? (probably) Just seems a bit weird to me.
  • by Bloody Peasant ( 12708 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @11:30AM (#11447716) Homepage

    Obligatory disclaimer: I wrote this humble file formats FAQ [nrao.edu] and it represents my personal and professional opinion (not necessarily my employer's).

    That said, can someone in MA please ask the movers and shakers there to read that document? It's probably in the class of "common sense" to most of us here, but clearly we've done a less than stellar job so far of imparting this clarity to those in political circles.

    For the impatient: the conclusion I reached is that RTF and PDF are very questionable if you want to use them as truly interchangeable formats in a heterogeneous environment. This is an empirical finding, based on real life experience.

  • There's a lot of (good) commentary on the detail of what is and isn't an open format. And it would be good to get the detail right, because there are many ways to abuse the phrase "open format" and there are companies that will take advantage of them.

    Nonetheless, requiring the use of open formats is a strong, defendable position in practise. like it or not, mandating the use of open source isn't possible, or at least highly unlikely. The reason for this is that open source might be good but it's not *neces
  • by fitten ( 521191 ) on Sunday January 23, 2005 @12:37PM (#11448104)
    I don't think that government should mandate open source vs. closed source code purchases. This is unfair. The government should not mandate against valid, legal business models.

    I think the government should mandate that output from any software be an open standard format (XML or whatever) and then they choose, based on a competative bid process like they are supposed to do, the software that will do what they want (which may include adding features at some point). If some OSS group wins, so be it. If some proprietary group wins, so be it.

    Allowing only OSS is both wrong and bad, IMO, for a number of reasons.
    1. It is straight against capitalist economy to require one business/development model. In capitalism, you specify the product and whoever can do it best/cheapest/easiest wins. Only an OSS zealot would think that OSS would always win.
    2. The government should not dictate the "right" business model for people to follow. As long as they are legal under the laws (both criminal and financial) of the country, they are valid. The government should not dictate that some valid models are not valid for the government.
    • Keep in mind that the legislation is for PUBLIC purchases, not what you can get. The government often prevents PUBLIC funds from buying things like alcoholic beverages. Even if something is legal, it might not be the best way to spend tax dollars.

      I think the government should mandate that output from any software be an open standard format (XML or whatever) and then they choose, based on a competative bid process like they are supposed to do, the software that will do what they want (which may include add

  • TXT? HTM? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <ed@membled.com> on Sunday January 23, 2005 @02:25PM (#11448720) Homepage
    Since when were 'TXT' and 'HTM' the names of document formats?

    Please, this isn't MS-DOS, and even if it were there's no need to resort to such barbarisms. You mean plain text, and HTML.
  • PDF is open (the spec is published). But whose GNOME/Linux SW can read every Adobe Acrobat doc as accurately as Adobe's reader, with text searching/copy/paste? And can create PDF? Without grinding a PIII/800 to its knees? This seems a case of the open source community missing the boat on a major cross-platform format not even influenced by Microsoft. Or maybe just a case of a single whining open sourcer not knowing which package to apt-get :).
    • But whose GNOME/Linux SW can read every Adobe Acrobat doc as accurately as Adobe's reader, with text searching/copy/paste?

      Have you tried using Adobe's reader? I'm sure it will work.

      And can create PDF? Without grinding a PIII/800 to its knees?

      I use pdflatex (part of the standard teTeX distribution), which runs adequately quickly on a Pentium 133 MMX with 32Mb RAM.


  • OpenOffice.org OpenOffice.org OpenOffice.org

    Did I mention OpenOffice.org? It runs on Windows, too.
  • RTF is a format owned and maintained by Microsoft. They simply choose to publish it. There is nothing stopping them from extending it and not publishing it further.

    Why is it considered open?

  • I never head of the open format standard named "HTM."

    I have heard of Microsoft's three-letter naming system that turned "HTML" files into "HTM" files.

    Same with "TXT" files.

    It's pretty obvious if you say you want "HTM" and "TXT" files you've already made up your mind about what you want.
  • Think about it -- if something like this had been done earlier, we could have saved an awful lot of time and money that was instead spent on anti-trust lawsuits that the government ultimately "lost" (yes, I know they technically won, but have _you_ noticed any benefits from that win? I sure haven't).

    Here's the problem -- Federal, State, and Local Government agencies of all sorts put out press releases, solicitations, regulatory notices and the like by the tens of thousands on a daily basis. Companies an

  • MA needs to insure the specifications are complete as well as free, publicly-avaiable, open, etc.

    A few years ago there was a brouhaha about Microsoft Active Directory authentication and MIT's kerberos standard that developed because the latter left a hole in the specification and the former took advantage of the opportunity to "add value" and "extend" the protocol in their product offering.

"All we are given is possibilities -- to make ourselves one thing or another." -- Ortega y Gasset

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