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A Set of RFI Responses for Sherlock Holmes 57

Andy Updegrove writes "In early May, Massachusetts issued a 'Request for Information' on plugins that could help ease the transition from a Microsoft Office based environment to one relying on ODF compliant software. Now the seven responses received have been posted by the ITD: six from vendors large and small — and one from Microsoft that purports to be informational, but in fact gives no information beyond what is already publicly available. Like everything else in the ODF saga, many of the responses are as much political as technical, with some delivering off-topic messages, one (from the ODF Foundation, strangely) refusing to disclose much at all, and several contradicting each other on the technical challenge of working with Office absent further code disclosures by Microsoft. All in all, they make for an intriguing read on multiple levels — offering more of an Easter egg hunt than informative offering. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these offerings the Mass. ITD decides to utilize."
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A Set of RFI Responses for Sherlock Holmes

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  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:15PM (#15583150)
    I understand how things like "levels &mdash offering" get left in comments, but aren't the stories notionally "edited" by an "editor"?
  • Wow. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:17PM (#15583167) Homepage Journal
    After reading all that, I suddenly have a new appreciation for our mod point system. Maybe Massachusetts should have submitted their request to "Ask Slashdot."
  • Open? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:21PM (#15583199) Homepage
    Then there is the ODF Foundation's response, which somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) begins awith the following Q& A:

    1. What is the present state of efforts to create ODF plug-ins or converters for Microsoft Office, whether undertaken by respondent or others through projects with which the respondent is familiar?

    This information is available under the terms of a confidentiality agreement.


    I guess in the land of Microsoft, an open door and a closed door are the same thing.
    • Re:Open? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Ruie ( 30480 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:27PM (#15583254) Homepage
      I guess in the land of Microsoft, an open door and a closed door are the same thing.

      That's because people enter through the windows.

    • Re:Open? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WhiteWolf666 ( 145211 ) <[sherwin] [at] [amiran.us]> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:41PM (#15583345) Homepage Journal
      There is no restriction for Development under the OpenSource licenses to be done in secret. It's distribution/sales that requires source code, not development.

      I suspect that the ODF doesn't want MS to break whatever APIs they are using for their plugin in Office 2007. Office 2007 is still _beta_ code. We've seen significant changes in the beta in the last few months, and theres nothing to stop these changes from occuring in the near future.

      I have no fears whatsoever that ODF will release the plugin under an open-source license. Furthermore, if you feel that you could do the actual development work, the format is avaliable for all to see; there's nothing sketchy going on here.

      Novell didn't release the XGL code until it was near-finished, because they a) wanted to WOW the world, b) didn't want to argue about their architectural decisions, and c) wanted to get it done by the SuSE PRO desktop release cycle for 10 (which hasn't occurred yet). There are other projects that operate under similar levels of secrecy; and there's _nothing_ wrong with that.

      You're free to develop Open Source code in secret. You're free to use Open Source code in secret (think Google). The only time you need to share the source, is when you distribute the binary. That's the beauty of the GPL. Want to use a heavily modified linux for your cruise missile guidance code?

      Fine. The only person you have to distribute it to is your customers, and they don't have to distribute it to anyone they don't want to. The essence of GPL style "freedom" is that when you get a piece of software, you get the guts of it, too; and you can redistribute any and all of it. GPL style "freedom" doesn't mean that the world as a whole gets your development time, or all the crap you strip out before you release your GPL code into the wild. It doesn't mean that a customer can demand all your alpha/beta versions before release, either. It just means that when you get a software "product", you get all the aspects of it, including distribution rights and source code.

      That's essentially why the GPL is compatible with capitalism.
      • You're free to develop Open Source code in secret. You're free to use Open Source code in secret (think Google). The only time you need to share the source, is when you distribute the binary.

        Indeed, if you're writing it from scratch you can even distribute testing builds as binary-only, and only release the source after it's been developed to the point where it's stable (or whenever).

        • Re:Open? (Score:3, Insightful)

          Indeed, if you're writing it from scratch you can even distribute testing builds as binary-only, and only release the source after it's been developed to the point where it's stable (or whenever).

          If you're writing it from scratch and only releasing binaries it's not (yet) Open Source then, is it?

          And then we have the likes of Sveasoft who like to distribute GPL'ed software under the guise of 'not really quite happy with it yet' for money without source compliance.
  • by SpecTheIntro ( 951219 ) <spectheintro&gmail,com> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:32PM (#15583283)
    Like everything else in the ODF saga, many of the responses are as much political as technical, with some delivering off-topic messages, one (from the ODF Foundation, strangely) refusing to disclose much at all, and several contradicting each other on the technical challenge of working with Office absent further code disclosures by Microsoft.

    Conversation between ODF advocates before they submitted their responses:

    "Ok, let's see here... cryptic response?"
    "Check."
    "Stick something in there about penguins?"
    "Check."
    "Refuse to reveal any actual information?"
    "Yep."
    "Awesome. Finish it up with something about Bill Gates eating babies, and send it out."
    "You got it."

  • It amazes me how Microsoft can be so ridiculously incompetent at some things, like ensuring Vista gets out on time, while managing to be perfect quality asshats around the world when it comes to bundling, IP, patents and competition. They did just enough here to appear cooperative. Same as they did with DOJ, same as they are doing with the EU.

    For some reason, when it comes to being big giant anticompetitive liars, their mission is always perfectly executed. It is quite amazing, really.
    • Good lawyers, bad project managers.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You didn't voice it, but seems like time to point out Mark's Corollary:

      "Malice and stupidity are NOT mutually exclusive."
    • They did just enough here to appear cooperative.

      The FP says MA wanted info "that could help ease the transition from a Microsoft Office based environment" (bolding mine).

      What motivation did Microsoft have to cooperate at all? "I would like you to give me information on the best time and place to kick you in the balls".


      Same as they did with DOJ, same as they are doing with the EU.

      Again... "We have decided to go on a witch hunt, and you look like a witch... Please provide evidence that would allow
      • What motivation did Microsoft have to cooperate at all?
        None, and nobody expected them to. What's being pointed out is that they're pretending to cooperate, rather than openly saying "Frack you, Massachusettes!" Which is also exactly what I would expect from them.
      • > I don't really see the motivation on MS's part there...

        When reading their response (the parts about "NA", "NA", "NA" and "NA" come to mind), I was wondering why they weren't being MORE cooperative.

        The Commonwealth has apparently already decided that they need to work with ODF to some extent, and they've apparently spent a ton of money on Microsoft products. Microsoft should be saying, "Thanks for continuing to use our products. Here's EXACTLY
      • I don't think that's it at all. I love OOo, but MSWord is, hands down, a better product (I work at a book publisher-- OOo is missing some important features). The problem is that you're tied in. Tie-in is Microsoft's M.O.

        Had Microsoft simply said that Office 2007 would fully support ODF, I'm willing to bet there would be a very good chance that Massachusetts would choose Office 2007 for the supported desktop configuration. Having working in IT for years (and two years in MA state IT), I can tell you
        • I don't think that's it at all. I love OOo, but MSWord is, hands down, a better product (I work at a book publisher-- OOo is missing some important features).

          That is not a great argument for supporting your claim that Word is a better product. It would be an acceptable argument if you were claiming that Word is a better product if you are a book publisher and the features relevant to book publishing are indispensable to you.

          See, most people do not work at book publishers.

          (And, by the way, for those th

          • Are you being pedantic or just an asshole?
            • I am just pointing out that the argument you use to justify your claim that "Word is, hands down, a better product [than OOo]" is really not good enough. I am just pointing that comparaisons as to what is better than what have to be done relative to a "better to do something specific" or "better for some particular use".

              For the uses most people I know use Word for, WordPad would be a better product. For the uses I could possibly use Word for, LaTeX+vim is a better product. You get the idea.

      • We have decided to go on a witch hunt, and you look like a witch... Please provide evidence that would allow us to burn you and confiscate your property, so we don't have to settle for just drowning you".

        She turned me into a newt!

  • and simply refers to how great their software is instead? wow theirs a real shocker for sure, mabye massechusets should have looked in the Microsoft knowledge base.
  • by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:57PM (#15583437)
    It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these offerings the Mass. ITD decides to utilize

    Having lived in MA most of my life, let me describe the selection process that will be used. First, which of the companies has significant ownership by MA pols or relatives or friends of MA pols? Since MA is a one-party state there is non-existent oversight on these matters. If that does not determine a clear winner, we move on to the next most important criteria ... which of the submitters is most willing to be shaken down -- you know, concessions paid for considerations given. Campaign contributions, promises of jobs to relatives, donations to "favorite charities" etc. The next most important attribute to consider is the perceived evils of the submitters. Clearly Microsoft will be dismissed outright on general principals. Consideration must be given to the affirmative action record of the submitters. What is the ratio of the CEO's salary to the workers' salaries? What is their record as regards unions. Which political party do they support? Finally, only after all of these important questions have been answered will consideration be given to technical merit, cost, likelihood of success and proven track records. With any luck it won't have to come down to those nasty tiebreakers, because those are much harder to determine. If it did however, they would then hire some well-connected, very expensive consultants (i.e. friends/relatives of the ruling class) to sort through the technical issues.
    • With any luck it won't have to come down to those nasty tiebreakers, because those are much harder to determine. If it did however, they would then hire some well-connected, very expensive consultants (i.e. friends/relatives of the ruling class) to sort through the technical issues.
      No, I'm pretty sure the consultants will be hired regardless.
    • If it takes more than 20 minutes, engineers in MA say "screw it - put in a rotary!"
      Then they throw down their pencils and head for Dunkin Donuts.
      Oh wait - I may be thinking of another roadmap...
  • A VB Macro Converter (Score:3, Interesting)

    by srobert ( 4099 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @01:00PM (#15583462)
    I think an example of what they had in mind when they made the RFI would be a VB Macro converter.
    I have some spreadsheets written by a coworker to automate some procedures. They have Visual Basic Macro's for some of the processes.
    I'd like to be able to open these with OpenOffice and have them function in the same way as with Excel. But I don't want to devote the time to learning how to rewrite the macros.
    SRR
    • I think with the .NET platform becoming more and more multi-platform it won't be long until problems like this are solved. That VB Macro can be compiled into byte code and executed/interpreted appropriately. Of course, it's completely likely that I don't understand the scripting technologies inherent in spreadsheet macros and the previous text is all hot air from my nether regions. *shrug* who knows?
      • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday June 22, 2006 @01:52PM (#15583831)

        I was under the impression that VB.NET and VB Script (which is what gets embedded in Office documents) are about as different as Java and Javascript.

        • by WATYF ( 945455 )
          Acutally, what gets embedded in Office apps is VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

          It's not the same as VBScript... actually, it's much closer to VB6 (and since it allows you to add references to COM objects, VBA can do many of the things that VB6 can do).

          But yes... either way, VBA (and VB6 and VBScript) is much different than VB.NET and is not completely convertable (from old VB to .NET)... although a good bit of VB6 can be converted using existing tools, you'd still have to know the language in order to c
  • I think we should abandon trying to get interoperability from Microsoft and simply do what we did in the old days: reverse engineer [wikipedia.org] conversion tools as much as possible! (In terms of converting their "open" format to a real open format.)
    • You're very right. Trying to interoperate with Microsoft products will be a constant headache, and constant heartache. I still have flashbacks to 1996-1997 and working with Novell servers and Microsoft NT 4.0 clients. Every time a new service pack was released, the Novell client redirector would stop working. Then a few months later, Novell would figure out how to hack around whatever DLLs Microsoft patched and they'd release a new client. By the time SP5 came out, I made $50 by betting a co-worker who
      • I thought kerberos+OpenLDAP already killed AD.

        Well maybe not in market share, but certainly in performance and functionality.

        As for Exchange, I can't think of anything that is OSS. I hear Groupwise and Lotus Notes are good, but as I haven't used either, I can't guarantee that they are any good. Mind you I've never used Exchange, but I've used MS Outlook (Outlaw?), and that was utter rubbish, so who knows.
  • by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @01:25PM (#15583619) Homepage
    Is it too much to ask that an article with the headline "A Set of RFI Responses for Sherlock Holmes" actually be about RFIs written as if by Sherlock Holmes, or a set of responses written as if by prospective clients of Sherlock Holmes?
  • by jdmonin ( 124516 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @02:32PM (#15584118) Homepage
    Groklaw ran a story in early May [groklaw.net] about the ODF plugin - it was ready with screenshots back then, but wasn't available for download. Almost seems like there's more info there than in the RFI !
    "The OpenDocument Foundation has notified the Massachusetts ITD that we have completed testing on an ODF Plugin for all versions of MS Office dating back to MS Office 97. The ODF Plugin installs on the file menu as a natural and transparent part of the open, save, and save as sequences. As far as end users and other application add-ons are concerned, ODF plugin renders ODF documents as if it were native to MS Office.

    The testing has been extensive and thorough. As far as we can tell there isn't a problem, even with Accessibility add ons, which as you know is a major concern for Massachusetts."

  • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @07:11PM (#15585837) Homepage Journal
    "How often have I said to you [wikipedia.org] that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" This phrase has entered Western popular culture as a catchphrase. It also turned up in the Dirk Gently stories by Douglas Adams where the detective uses the opposite phrase, "because we know very much about what is improbable, but very little about what is possible".

    Apparently the RIF responses are nothing to do about much.

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