Microsoft ruling fires up the haters

Nothing brings out the animosity against an industry titan like a hint of vulnerability

Nothing brings out the animosity against an industry titan like a hint of vulnerability.

In the case of Microsoft, the animosity is not coming from the competition but from customers, who use the company’s desktop software because it’s the de facto standard at many agencies. But that doesn’t mean they have to like it.

In response to our coverage of the recent court ruling against Microsoft numerous readers posted comments on our Web site expressing their ambivalence about their reliance on the company’s software. Some readers who wrote to say that the case had no merit qualified their comments by stressing that they were no fans of Microsoft.

The case involves a Canadian company named i4i that asserts Microsoft has infringed on a patent for technology that makes it possible for Word software to handle some Extensible Markup Language code. A federal judge ruled in favor of i4i and ordered Microsoft to stop selling its software beginning in mid-October. Microsoft has appealed.

Some readers see the lawsuit as Microsoft’s just desserts.

“They seem to be a company choking on their own hubris,” wrote M. “[Bill] Gates got out of ‘Dodge’ just in time. They clearly were beginning to lose traction [with] users. There are those who say Microsoft bought, stole, intimidated and stole their way to the top. Have they finally been caught?”

For others, the case is an opportunity to complain about the software itself, especially Word 2007.

“Perhaps i4i has done us all a favor,” a reader concluded. “As far as I am concerned, Office 2007 fixed something that was not broken. I still have a hard time finding what I need on those 2007 'ribbons.' Office 2003 is well known, easy to use and capable of serving almost everyone's needs.”

But most readers took a more pragmatic view and expressed concern about what would happen if the injunction is allowed to stand.

“The problem here is that Microsoft is being punished for using an open document standard,” Scott wrote. “Office 2007 is actually a step forward in usability, and this ruling will force them to patch out the ability to use the new file formats, which will in turn cost everyone, private and government, in terms of server space used for end-user documents.”

“Maybe the folks of the previous postings forgot what it was like when software was plain 'incompatible' and documents sent all over the country and/or within a business couldn't be read,” another reader said. “Wake up. You're probably using Microsoft's product to make you more productive.”

Of course, Microsoft is not the only game in town. As Keninmo wrote, “If you don't like Microsoft, don't buy it, simple, go buy WordPerfect. :-) Nobody forces a person to buy MS Office, and you are perfectly free to reformat your hard drive and install a non-Windows OS.”

One reader saw the situation as a perfect opening for agencies to consider OpenOffice, an open-source alternative to Microsoft’s and other companies’ proprietary products. “Given the Obama administration's views on open source (read the spec on the software behind federalreporting.gov, which grew from the Recovery Act), I would expect more of a push,” the reader wrote.

But just how vulnerable is Microsoft?

A thoughtful reader noted several possible directions the company might take if it loses its legal case, none of which would inflict any long-term damage. For example, Microsoft easily might issue a software patch to enable Office to handle XML without using the company’s current custom XML solution.

“Worst-case scenario, some customers might have their particular application or document become less readable, and they will have to reformat to get the new ‘patch’ to work properly,” the reader wrote. “Remember, this doesn't change what XML is, just how it's handled.”

Another reader agreed that the injunction was a minor setback but imagined a darker scenario if Microsoft loses the case.

“Microsoft isn't going to stop selling word-processing software just because some judge hits them with an injunction,” a reader said. “They might not be selling Word, but you can bet that whatever the renamed product is, it will contain the same functionality as Word. The bottom line is that the federal government needs Microsoft far more than Microsoft needs the federal government.”

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 Earth

You could save the military quite a bit of money by embracing and extending OpenOffice. And just as the Interstate Highway system created a way for the military to get from one side of the nation to the other in efficient fashion but indirectly created significant commerce effects that “promoted the general welfare”, if the government created a computational infrastructure “to the keyboard” (OS, word processing, spreadsheet, ect.) the effect in promoting the general welfare should be significant. I have heard the argument of the government not producing what commerce can produce itself but there is also the “right” of the government to create standards and require the states to adopt them to receive matching funds. Leadership is needed here for the good of the people. Let the software companies create games and such what but let the government create patent troll free infrastructure that every individual’s wellbeing can benefit by. Clearly word-processing has matured to the point that new bells and whistles are a distraction, even if they are needed to create a new version to maintain the companies’ revenue flow. Countries that do not evolve to make new technologies part and parcel of the infrastructure where appropriate will be left behind by those that do not burden their citizenry with such startup costs. Or running patent troll costs.

Fri, Oct 16, 2009 David Arlington

What is this, 1986? If you're in IT and you're spending more than 5 seconds thinking about word processors, then you're wasting your employer's time. As long as your work group has compatible tools and they distribute final versions in PDF, then you're fine.

Mon, Aug 31, 2009 M

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't see a major issue here, either. I can tell you precisely how many documents I generate in XML: zero. We're still producing plain doc/xls/ppt/etc. files because our install base must play to the lowest common denominator: Office XP. No XML-handling? No problem.

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