Massachusetts, Microsoft Strike Office 2003 Format Deal That Applies Globally

According to an agreement recently reached between Microsoft and the state of Massachusetts, the Redmond, Wash.-based software company revised the patent license on its ML formats for Office 2003 to ensure that the Word and Excel ML formats, for example, remain open for all-time and for all citizens. With that, Microsoft can't prevent citizens from opening a public document or force them to pay for that right.

"Massachusetts has a reputation of being a leader in this space. It was troubling to us that a private company could lock up a [public] document," Quinn said at a LinuxWorld press conference in Boston. "We worked closely with Microsoft on the issue, and they have changed the worldwide patent."

At the conference, state IT officials said Microsoft wanted to limit the time frame of the agreement and restrict it to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But state IT officials rejected those terms. Microsoft quietly posted the revised policy on its Web site two weeks ago, according to the officials.

After the press conference, Quinn told CRN that he had an ally at Microsoft in Stuart McKee, a member of the software giant's U.S. technology office, whom he knew. McKee, who formerly served as Washington state CIO, helped broker the deal, Quinn said.

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The issue reached the highest levels at Microsoft, Quinn added. "'I have no doubt that [CEO Steve] Ballmer and [Chairman Bill] Gates signed off on this," he said.

Quinn acknowledged that some members of the open-source community have criticized Massachusetts for allowing open "formats" such as ML to be approved under the state's open-standards IT procurement policy. Quinn declined to comment directly, but one of his aides said the office has "taken some flak" from the open-source sector.

Massachusetts never intended to exclude any company--proprietary or open-source--from the IT procurement process, and the state isn't part of the "ABM [anything but Microsoft] movement," according to Quinn.

"We're not out there to rape the intellectual property [IP] of software companies. We're not trying to be [IT] socialists," he told CRN. "This is a big technology state, and we're big defenders of IP. We just want information to be open."