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Massachusetts and Microsoft

Discussion in 'The Lounge - Off Topic' started by ffreeloader, Dec 4, 2006.

  1. ffreeloader

    ffreeloader Terabyte Poster

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    For approximately a year there has been what is basically open warfare between Microsoft and the IT department for the State of Massachusetts over the ODF(Open Document Format) issue. Carol Sliwa, writing for "ComputerWorld.com", has given a very good behind-the-scenes look at what has happened there.

    It seems Microsoft tried to gut entire IT department because they were the ones who made the decision that the State of Massachusetts should not be held hostage to a single, proprietary document format for all of its documents. Microsoft, through its lobbyists, tried to strip the State's IT department of almost all of its ability to make decisions as to what they have to administer on a day-to-day basis.

    Think about this one. How would you like an outside company coming into your business/department, and through the force of law, strip the IT department in which you work of the ability to make any decisions about what technology you will use through cutting off your ability to make purchasing decisions? Do you think this is acceptable behavior on MS's part? Or do you think that it's "anything is OK as they(MS) are trying to make a profit"?

    The article contains portions of over 300 email conversations obtained by Carol Sliwa through the Freedom of Information Act, and show MS as a company willing to completely alienate the very department they would have to work with.

    This article is a very interesting look at business hardball played the MS way.

     
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  2. Baba O'Riley

    Baba O'Riley Gigabyte Poster

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    I remember reading about this a while back. MS really don't help themselves sometimes.
     
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  3. fortch

    fortch Kilobyte Poster

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    I know M$'s tactics, particularly in the legal and patent arena, aren't always nice. I've said it before -- I believe M$ needs to quit leading their relationships and meetings with their legal team, and get down to the meat.

    As to the ODF vs. OpenXML, I see it as the tail wagging the dog. Why should MSFT hamstring their own product to introduce a competing open source alternative to the workforce? Let's not even consider OpenXML's greater performance, which will be *natural* in M$ Office (the ODF-OpenXML translation has to occur anyways with a plugin) --- since it's not really the issue for Mass... at least not yet. They see a way to save cash -- great! I just don't think they can expect MSFT to help make the transition easier. From the tone of the debate, you'd think that OpenXML *only* relates to M$, but in reality it is a more complete standard.

    Sure, Oo does 80% of what M$ Office does -- but that's all that is really needed, right? BZZT. This is MSFT's software, and if they want to code specifically, then that's their right. They don't want to readily conform to the ODF's "just enough for the majority" mentality. You know what? I agree with them.

    If I were making widgets, I'd certainly listen to my customers -- they are my bread. However, if my customer wanted to use other widgets -- free widgets -- with mine, should I adopt a strategy? Hmmm, if those widgets were better and nicer than mine, how much time left do I have making widgets?

    Fact is, Oo is *not* as good as M$ Office. Sure it emulates 80% rather well, but what about the rest? Oo will eventually support it, right? Sure, whenever someone gets around to it. Oh, you mean there's a timeline here?

    Unfortunately, the tail shouldn't wag the dog. If Mass wants to move to ODF, let them. Sure, MSFT will feel the effect. Do they want it? No, but they have to embrace it in some way. ODF is for real, and they can't just turn their back on it. Neither can they cowtail to others directing their products. That's like being robbed, and "Oh, would you mind holding this end of the rope that I'm tying you up with?" :dry

    Before anyone parses each statement I've made and argues it out of context, let me say this: I use Oo in my network. It does what I need to do with it (I don't demand much), and I love the cost. Same thing for the 2 Linux servers I have sitting next to me. But, if I want to play in the M$ waters, I know what to expect.

    There's a place for both ODF and OpenXML, and this little battle is just a part of the war. This war is a *lot* deeper and sinister than what it seems on the surface. Even in this skirmish, I see M$'s poor practices playing against the opponents normal anti-heavy drag-through-the-mud methods of M$ bashing. Same old argument, different topic.
     
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  4. JonnyMX

    JonnyMX Petabyte Poster

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    I know we've been through things like this before, but at the end of the day, Microsoft are a business trying to sell products and beat the competition - not a charity.

    I consider myself a fairly ethical person, but if I owned my own company I'd rather it was Microsoft than Dave's Computer's in Essex.

    If you're going to go into business, surely you go in to win and earn as much money as possible? Of course you want to make life as difficult as possible for your competitors.

    I see things from the other side. How many other major corporations have been stung so often and so publicly than Microsoft? Why do we never see stories about NASA being told off for using non-standard windscreen wipers on the space shuttle and doing American windscreen wiper makers out of business?

    I think it's quite interesting that we see PCs and software as a domestic service - like water, gas and telephones which should be there for our convenience and regulated to ensure fair treatment.

    Do car manufacturers do it? Does anyone else? I don't think so. They're all in it for themselves and that's the way the sales business has always been - and lets not forget - MS is now more about sales than it is about development, and that's important...

    :brancard
     
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  5. ffreeloader

    ffreeloader Terabyte Poster

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    Fortch,

    As the article stated it's technically trivial for MS to add ODF support to their product. The point is they want to force the customer to accept their document format, rather than serve the desires and needs of their customers.

    And, what does any of this have to do with Open Office? Not a damn thing. It doesn't have anything to do with MS Office either. It doesn't even have anything to do with Open Source. It has to do with a document format that can be read by all related types of software so documents will always be readable even if a company goes out of business, drops support for their current document format, the customer decides to change vendors, etc... all of which are valid concerns for any IT department, and especially for an IT department for as large an entity as a State government.

    This issue is about nothing more than a common sense decision by a customer who is concerned about long term availability of their documents, and MS wanting to tell the customer what format they have keep their documents in. Period....

    Sorry, but your entire argument is nothing more than a straw man that doesn't even address the issue at hand.
     
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  6. BosonMichael
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    But that's their choice to do business that way. Those who don't like those tactics should stop using their products.

    Personally, I don't need ODF support, so Microsoft serves my desires and needs quite well (at the moment).
     
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  7. JonnyMX

    JonnyMX Petabyte Poster

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    Relevant or not, I think Fortch made a sound - and unbiased point. I'm not sure it it is fair to shoot him down like that.

    I know you have your convictions Freddy, but in turn you have to allow others to have theirs...

    :beers2
     
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  8. ffreeloader

    ffreeloader Terabyte Poster

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    Johnny,

    Fortch is most definitely allowed his own viewpoint.

    However, if he is going to argue a point with respect to the issue at hand then he needs to address the issue at hand, not something that has nothing to do with the issue. Whether Open Office can do 10%, 20%, or 100% of what MS Office can do is completely irrelevant to a document format. Whether Open Office is Open Source or proprietary would have nothing to do with the issue either. It has to do with the right of an IT department to choose whether or not they want to choose a document format that will be in their own, and the entity's that they serve, long-term good. Anything other than that issue is irrelevant to the discussion because it has nothing to do with a choice of formats and whether the documents will be available 10 or 20 years from now. The only issue that affects whether or not documents will be available long-term is the format they are saved in.

    As an aside I find it interesting that you seem to believe that as a business owner you think that your business would be best served by attempting to run roughshod over your customers, by attempting to force them to do what you want, rather than adapting your services, products, etc... to fit what the customer needs and desires. That's a very strange, to me, definition of customer service and the weirdest way I've ever heard of building customer loyalty....

    I guess I completely fail to see how alienating the customer base for a business can possibly be the basis for long term success in any business. Telling a customer "You have no choice. You must do things my way" flies in the face of everything I've learned about human nature, businessmen, and how customers think and react in 20 years of dealing with individuals and businesses.
     
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  9. BosonMichael
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    I'm not sure where this customer base is, and where it does exist, it's not sizable enough for Microsoft to care about; thus, they choose to not support ODF. Every place I've worked or supported has used standard Office document formats, and they don't have any problems with using it - that's what their providers use, that's what their customers use, and that's what their suppliers use. Not saying that ODF isn't worthwhile... I'm just saying that we use Microsoft's document formats by choice.

    Again, those who think it's a bad move for Microsoft to not support ODF should simply stop buying their products. No revenue = no company. if enough customers have "had enough", Microsoft will listen or fail. If nobody complains, Microsoft will continue to do as they wish.
     
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  10. fortch

    fortch Kilobyte Poster

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    Freddy, if you can't understand my post, that's fine -- just don't act like you did. You think you're the only one reading about the OpenXML/ODF debate?
    You think it's got *nothing* to do with Oo or Office? On the ODF wiki alone, the word office is used 35 times. 35 times. :blink

    Dude, try reading some of the examples of the file format debate, on the ODF sites and the OpenXML blogs. Where is MSFT 'forcing' anyone to use their proprietary format? If the ODF stuff is so great, then why haven't they been using it all along? Are you sure you want to make a blind blanket statement like that? Try looking objectively at the issue for a change. Did you skip past the widgets? :rolleyes: Can you not understand that even though it's trivial to make a plugin, it'll significantly eat into their business?

    Contrary to your viewpoint, I *do* recognize the benefits of open file standards -- and it would be great. However, just because you want it that way, doesn't mean everyone must follow suit. As a matter of fact, I believe Mass might have been forcing MSFT to create that plugin. What, no foul?

    Regardless, great-tasting light beer would be wonderful as well... oh, and world peace, too. Some things just don't happen the way we want them to. We can whine and cry all we want, but mostly we just play with the hand we're dealt. In this case, forcing Microsoft to create something that will knock a leg out from under their business model is ridiculous, but guess what? They are trying to work it out. Hmm... ODF doesn't have shareholders to think about, do they?

    Forget it, if you can't see a correlation, than I might as well be talking in another language.
     
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  11. zebulebu

    zebulebu Terabyte Poster

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    I love reading these posts of Freddy's. Whilst i may not share some of his views, he certainly makes very informed arguments and can be extremely persuasive. Equally, the ripostes from people who don't agree with him are just as intelligent. That's what makes this forum such a great place - I can't believe it took me this long to join up here after wasting my time on other forums!

    This post doesn't exactly highlight an issue that is germane only to M$' business practices though - it relates to predatory business practices everywhere, which are rife and always have been. The bigger the organisation, the more power it wields and hence, the dirtier the tricks it is able to employ to get what it wants.

    Don't get me started on abuse of corporate power - I do quite a lot of reading on politics and economics and some of the abuses of corporations in the Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Ag spheres make Microsoft's underhandedness in this instance look like knocking over the salad bowl at a church picnic in comparison!

    Still - nice to know that the influence of corporations is just as disgraceful as ever!
     
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  12. Bluerinse
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    This forum has improved steadily over time and when you recently joined, it got a whole bunch better! 8)
     
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  13. ffreeloader

    ffreeloader Terabyte Poster

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    Hmmm..... Let's see. I will either crush the wishes and desires of my customers to fit my business plan, or I will accomodate the wishes and desires of my customers and conduct my business plan around them. I wonder which approach will be more successful long-term. I wonder which approach will build good will, customer loyalty, and trust? I wonder which approach will finally end in complete distrust by the customers. I wonder, just wonder which approach will undermine a business business faster? Meeting customer needs and requests with a smile, or ignoring them and trying to legally gut them? What has been your experience? Do you respond better to threats and intimidation from a business, or a business that meets your needs?

    I once went to a Mitsubishi dealership in Vancouver, WA looking for a car to buy. I'd done probably 2 years of research into dealer costs, rebates, profit margins, and what kind of car I wanted, and I wanted a Mitsubishi Eclipse with the turbo, all wheel drive, leather, etc.... I wanted a top of the line Eclipse.

    Well, we found an Eclipse at the dealership we were at. We started discussing prices, and they just wanted to jerk me around. So, I said, "well, here's how much you have in that car. Here's what you get on dealer rebates, volume sales discounts, etc.... Here's what I will give you. The salesman literally stood up and started yelling at me telling me that I was not going to buy a car for that price and that I was stupid. So, I said, "I don't want to get into a fight over this. If you don't want to sell for what I'll pay for the car I'll see you later and we will just leave." The salesman followed us all the way to our car yelling at us, berating us. Guess which salesman didn't sell me a car? Guess which dealership didn't sell me a car? Guess which manufacturer didn't sell me a car? Guess which Mitsubishi dealership is no longer in business in Vancouver, WA?

    I've worked for multiple organizations, and those that focused on meeting the customers needs, and desires, didn't have to advertise very much at all. You know why? Their own customers advertised their services and products for them by their customers becoming their best sales people. (There is no advertising stronger than word-of-mouth because it comes to the potential client with an automatic level of trust.) As long as the company focused on meeting customer needs and wishes, they flourished. When they forgot that and went in pursuit of short term profits at the expense of the customer, guess what happened to all their free advertising? It disappeared and their customer base shrank.

    It will take longer for the above to happen with a monopoly, but it will happen. It can't help but happen because it is based upon fundamentals of human nature, and woe be to any company that tries to override human nature in their business practices. Any business focus/practice other than meeting the needs and desire of their customers will cause that business to ultimately fail. It's happened every time. Go find 1 business in history that built a business by ignoring customer needs and desires and forcing them to do what they didn't want to do, and then sustained that success for 40 or 50 years by maintaining those same practices. Any business that forgets that the customer is king will go into decline and eventually fail. It really is that simple. Why? Someone else will come along and build their trade on all that ill will by being responsive to customer needs and desires, and human nature will do the rest.

    As to your idea that MS was being forced by the State of Massachusetts to build an ODF plugin, well, I think it is pretty funny. Wow, a customer having to force their supplier to meet their needs. That says a lot about the customer service they were getting.

    Last, and most importantly, if MS would have simply made it easy to use an open format as the customer requested, what chance would there have been for any other vendor to take that business? Very little if any, because MS would have created good will by meeting their customer's need, and would have built brand/company loyalty by creating trust.

    It's pretty stupid to wage war when all you need to do is make a trivial fix to your software and then say, not only to that customer but to all of their other customers who might want the same feature, "Why change products? Our software will already easily read, modify, create, and save in that format. Is there any other need of yours that we can fill while we are at it?" MS's actions were stupid, arrogant, and very poorly thought out. Instead of building goodwill, which is what keeps a vendor locked in, they created a mass of ill will.

    Tell me, Fortch, do you really believe a business based on force, distrust, and ill will can ultimately survive, no matter how big they might be at present?
     
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  14. JonnyMX

    JonnyMX Petabyte Poster

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    I think that MS is simply too big.

    They are continually gathering feedback from customers and holding working groups to steer development.
    They freely make beta software available and to be quite honest, I get sucked off with the amount of times I'm asked to give feedback on something.
    You can't even phone MS support without someone calling you back the next day to find out if you enjoyed the experience.

    But what happens with all that information?
    I guess it gets filtered and refined and makes some very nice graphs.

    Then somebody tries to interpret them and writes a report. This gets summarised for the senior managers (who don't have a great attention span) and ends up as some b0ll0cks like 'users want to feel more empowered through our products'.

    I don't think it's fair to say that MS ride roughshod over their customers. It's more the point of the argument that they ride roughshod over people who aren't their customers - which is the point that a few of us have made.

    :biggrin
     
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  15. JonnyMX

    JonnyMX Petabyte Poster

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    I do quite agree with your points about customer service Freddy - and I do think MS takes many suggestions on board. There are a lot of improvements in Office 2007, many of which I'm sure were customer driven. You can now export documents as pdf - how good is that?

    But where to draw the line?
    To take your example of a car dealership. What if you had demanded the car in lime green? The dealer could politely tell you it wasn't made in lime green, or he could ask the manufacturer to start producing a lime green version. What is your business worth to the company, and how far do they change their business practices to suit what is ultimately a minority of their customer base.

    One minute they are being told to take something (such as media player) out because it isn't fair to the competition, and the next they are being told to put something in because a couple of hundred people think it would be quite handy.

    If I was Bill I'd get my coat and go home.

    Oh, he has...

    :D
     
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  16. fortch

    fortch Kilobyte Poster

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    Good points, all, Johnny. In business, listening to your customers and finding the right balance is KEY, for sure. I agree with Freddy about service -- I've been in customer service for decades, and I *know* I was fair and balanced. However, as many times as I'd bent over backwards, I had to honestly explain that what they desired and what I was able to deliver were two different things. Compromise is the tool, and most times things worked out. However, out of the 99% that the customer is always right, there's the 1% customer that you just can't service, no matter what you do. They want to dictate how to run your business, often in terms that would conflict with the point of being in business in the first place.

    In MSFT's case, the fact that they *haven't* completely dismissed this is good. They have shareholders, P&L reports, budgets, etc to reason in all of this. They need to take this opensource movement -- and it DOES HAVE EVERYTHING TO DO WITH IT -- and find a way to work with it. Unfortunately, sometimes MSFT likes to resist change, rather than embrace it.

    Look at the RIAA for example. Instead of embracing filesharing and finding a way to work with online music licensing, they decided to fight it in court. Then, they took it to the little guy, in useless litigation. Why? They saw the online music proliferation as a threat, and 100% piracy. Is it? Of course not, but that element is huge. So, do you fight, or do you innovate? Obviously, you innovate. However, you need people with vision to be in charge of the situation.

    That's why MSFT obfuscates the issues in legality (well, mostly due to lawyers and beancounters). First, they lead everything with their lawyers, and second, rather than having visionary business managers in place, they have guys like Ballmer -- who see everything as a threat. I've said it before, but MSFT employs some of the greatest minds in the world. However, one or two bad apples spoils the bunch. They absolutely do need to innovate rather than litigate. Unfortunately, sometimes they tie things up, but not always for assessments.

    Some may think it's simplistic to create the plugin, and have at it. However, it ain't that simple. There are far-reaching implications, and MSFT will need to find a way to let the customer have their cake and eat it too. Helping to usher in the OS-movement is very dangerous for them, especially since it's change. Most people don't like change, and feel threatened by it, especially if it involves salaries and other comforts of life. There's a lot of frustrated people working for MSFT, and the need for evolving is high. It's just something they can't jump in with both feet. They really need to test the water, or they may find themselves in over their head.
     
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  17. ffreeloader

    ffreeloader Terabyte Poster

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    Ummm.... I don't know exactly how you meant this, but I'd say the State of Massachusetts comprises a lot more than a few hundred users. It's probably more in the line of a few tens of thousands of users as this battle was between MS and the Massachusetts IT "Division". That's the whole enchilada, not the IT department of one department of the state government An entire state is a very large customer.
     
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  18. BosonMichael
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    Google search seems to indicate that the State of Mass employs 40,000 people. Not sure how many of them are computer users, but even if half of them are, that's quite a few.

    Still, to Microsoft, 20,000 licenses is a drop in the bucket. But it still sets precedent.
     
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  19. ffreeloader

    ffreeloader Terabyte Poster

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    My first thought was that the ratio was about that too, but, after further consideration I believe it is probably higher because the State runs quite a few colleges, including some rather large universities, which all have far more computers than they have employees. I attended classes at a small satellite campus of a community college located in another town, and I'd say that the ratio of computers to staff at that small campus was at least 4 to 1, and the larger the enrollment at a school, the greater that ratio is going to become because the size of the computer labs for the students are going to really grow, and the greater the number of courses that will require computers in the classroom.

    There are 30 state-funded colleges in Massachusetts according to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Learning so that is going to affect the ratio quite a bit.
     
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