[Fsfe-ie] Massachusetts proposal puts Microsoft on defensive

teresahackett at eircom.net teresahackett at eircom.net
Wed Sep 7 12:35:06 CEST 2005

Massachusetts proposal puts Microsoft on defensive

Financial Times
By Richard Waters in San Francisco
Published: September 1 2005 19:00 | Last updated: September 1 2005 19:00

For Microsoft
grappling with state officials in Massachusetts is nothing new. After
the federal government and a number of states settled the landmark
antitrust case against the software company, the New England state held out.

Now, Massachusetts is preparing to deliver another challenge to
Microsoft's core PC software business: a directive to force all 50,000
desktop computers used by state employees to be stripped of Microsoft's
Office, the suite of applications used on an estimated 95 per cent of
PCs the world over. Instead, they would be required to run an
open-source version, such as OpenOffice or StarOffice – software
produced by volunteer programmers and distributed free of charge.

Such public policy proposals have become a familiar challenge for
Microsoft abroad, as national and local governments in countries such as
Brazil, India and China have latched on to the promise of open-source

Governments have been attracted by the prospect of using software with
code open to inspection and adaptation, while also employing the
software to stimulate the development of local software industries not
dependent on Microsoft.

At home, though, the Massachusetts recommendation represents something
new. The plan, proposed by the state's chief information officer, is
open for public comment until the end of next week.

If Microsoft cannot overturn the proposal, it could become an
influential policy that helps to shape the thinking of other local US

For Microsoft, which earned $8.6bn from Office last year – almost as
much as the $9.4bn from the Windows PC operating system – that would be

So far, in spite of the political posturing around open-source desktop
software, Microsoft has largely rebuffed significant inroads into its
core business, at least in the developed world.

Much of that has to do with cost: testing and installing open-source
software, then training office workers, can lead to costs that were
“simply too high” for most potential users, according to a report last
month from Gartner, a technology research firm.

The question of cost will figure prominently in Microsoft's last-minute
lobbying to try to overturn the Massachusetts proposal.

“I think it would be pretty risky for the state of Massachusetts togo
in a direction like this without a clear look at the costs first,” says
Alan Yates, general manager of the Office division at Microsoft. “It
would seem to me that before taking such a big shift, they would look
into it further.”

Microsoft has also taken steps to make its software more compatible with
open technology standards, heading off some of the resistance from
public bodies.

The European Commission, in its study on the subject two years ago,
known as the Valoris report, concluded that Microsoft's adoption of XML
technology was enough to meet the requirements of most public sector users.

Massachusetts, however, has concluded that Microsoft's shift towards
open standards has not gone far enough.

For Microsoft, the battle to keep the open source movement at bay has
just moved a little closer to home.

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