This morning, on December 8, 2009, Peter Shane, a law professor and author of “Madison’s Nightmare: Unchecked Executive Power and the Threat to American Democracy” posted an article on the Huffington Post titled WH Releases Open Government Directive: Transparency (Plus) Engagement (Equals) More Democracy. It is a somewhat breathless article about a supposed new openness from the Obama White House.
Regardless of how much credit you want to give to the President for sponsoring openness in government, one item jumped out to me. That is the mandate that government documents to be made public must be placed in an open format. That’s interesting and may cost Microsoft millions. Here’s why:
Most government offices are standardized on Microsoft Office, which saves files in a closed and proprietary format. Microsoft likes that, because the easiest way to deal with a Microsoft Word document or Excel spreadsheet is to use a Microsoft product to open it. And Microsoft has a virtual monopoly on office software. Other software can open and even save in a Microsoft format, but this usually results in changes in the look and formatting of the document or even possibly data loss.
But if a document is kept in an open format, many other software solutions are possible. Suddenly, Microsoft has a lot of potential competition.