ODF: How a Digital Document Format is Threatening a Multibillion-Dollar Monopoly (and what you can do to help)

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Under the leadership of Bill Gates, Microsoft has become one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world. There are many keystones to Microsoft's continuing lock-in as a convicted (yet untrammeled) monopolist in the personal-computer software market. One of the most important of these keystones, and one which is a matter of personal experience for many of us, is their control over access to the information we store in digital documents. Microsoft Word, by default, stores documents in a proprietary format which can only be read reliably by other copies of the same version of Word. Therefore, almost everyone who works in any kind of office needs to purchase an up-to-date copy of Microsoft Word in order to be able to access these documents.

The seminar will present some technical background on ODF, as well as OOXML, Microsoft's response to ODF. The current status of these formats with regards to international standard-setting bodies such as ISO will be described. The political environment surrounding government decisions to adopt ODF will be reviewed, with particular attention to recent developments in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the People's Republic of China.

Opinions expressed by the presenters are their own and not necessarily those of their employer, IEEE, or the sponsors.

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  • Contact Information:
  • semichigan-ems@ieee.org


  Speakers

Dave Scholl

Dave Scholl of Ford

Topic:

ODF: How a Digital Document Format is Threatening a Multibillion-Dollar Monopoly (and what you can do to help)

Under the leadership of Bill Gates, Microsoft has become one of the most profitable companies in the history of the world. There are many keystones to Microsoft's continuing lock-in as a convicted (yet untrammeled) monopolist in the personal-computer software market. One of the most important of these keystones, and one which is a matter of personal experience for many of us, is their control over access to the information we store in digital documents. Microsoft Word, by default, stores documents in a proprietary format which can only be read reliably by other copies of the same version of Word. Therefore, almost everyone who works in any kind of office needs to purchase an up-to-date copy of Microsoft Word in order to be able to access these documents. Recently, two powerful communities have joined to promote an alternative digital document format known as Open Document Format (ODF), which is a published open standard, free for any programmer to implement. The first and largest of these communities is all those who don't wish to pay Microsoft's monopoly-inflated prices. The Chinese government, on behalf of the Chinese business community, is a notable member of this group. The second such community is government archivists, who have a statutory responsibility to maintain collections of documents for public access over decades. This group is smaller than the first, but their voices are heard by lawmakers. They also find the default Microsoft document format unacceptable. Imperfect conversions to new formats can change the documents in unpredictable ways, and maintaining computers running older versions of Word is neither practical nor legal. In many countries, arranging a government archive in such a way that citizens are required to make a purchase from Microsoft before viewing public records is highly objectionable, not to mention illegal. More objectionable yet is the concept of the citizens of a sovereign government being unable to view their own government's electronic documents without licensing software patents held by Microsoft, a foreign corporation. The seminar will present some technical background on ODF, as well as OOXML, Microsoft's response to ODF. The current status of these formats with regards to international standard-setting bodies such as ISO will be described. The political environment surrounding government decisions to adopt ODF will be reviewed, with particular attention to recent developments in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the People's Republic of China.

Biography: Dave Scholl holds a BA in Physics from Rice University, and an MA in Chemistry from Stanford University. Mr. Scholl worked in Thin-film physics at IBM Almaden Research Laboratory, and since 1991 has been at Ford Scientific Research, Surface physics, nanotribology, combustion diagnostics, sound quality, and vehicle emissions. He has been a Linux user since Red Hat 4.2, a decade ago. Dave is Technical Specialist at Ford Motor Company.





Agenda

5:30pm food

6:30pm presentation