09.24.10

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Escaping Microsoft Lock-in, Ditching .NET

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice at 4:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Door locks

Summary: Lessons in document formats and also a lesson to be learned about programming, especially the associated lock-in costs

A couple of years ago Bristol was moving to ODF, but just like in Switzerland [1, 2] Microsoft lock-in is standing in the way and Mark Ballard reports on it:

Bristol blazed a trail for the coalition government’s IT strategy by replacing Microsoft Office five years ago with office software that used open standards on 5,500 machines. But its staff found their work became prohibitively unproductive, said the Council Cabinet document, because so much of the UK’s public sector carried on using Microsoft standards. Sixty per cent of its employees installed Microsoft Office software piecemeal to get round the problem.

Bristol had also been forced to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Its 5,500 desktops had been running Windows XP. Microsoft is phasing out support for XP, and will cease in 2014.

Bristol ICT director Paul Arrigani said in the IT proposal that Bristol was being forced to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft software because, since its old software was no longer supported, access to other key computer systems such as the Government Secure Intranet could be invalidated.

“The planned approach does not change the council’s commitment to open standards and open source, but reflects the reality of the environment in which we have to operate,” said Arrigani in the report.

The council might find a way out when its new Microsoft licences run out in three years, he said, “should the move to a fully open source environment be feasible at this point”.

Beckett also said in the report that Bristol’s Microsoft strategy was not a “retreat” from open source. The council would still install the open source Open Office alongside every machine with Microsoft Office. It would encourage users not to form habits that would lock them into using Microsoft in the future.

The key point here is that Microsoft creates software which deviates from standards and thus makes it abundantly difficult to escape exiting proprietary software contracts (plus renewals). The next wave of lock-in is called OOXML and it’s worse in terms of lock-in than Microsoft’s binary formats (which some office suites were adapted to cope with to some extent). The man who told us that OOXML is a “superb standard” is currently trying to get people — developers in particular — off Java and on Mono. Well, as Mono only lures people into .NET, it does not help them escape lock-in, it only increases lock-in. And in any case, Mono and .NET lose to server-side champions like Ruby in this new case:

Leaving .net

[...]

This repository is being watched by 30 people and 5 commits have been made to it. 5 commits! Why is this number so horrendously low? Because Microsoft don’t take patches. They’ll release a new version of MVC without anyone’s commits. Worse than that, everyone will start using their new version and the github repo will just start again.

[...]

Tomorrow I start a new project in Ruby. I will have access to a massive and diverse array of talented passionate people who are genuinely interested in collaboration and advancing the craft for everyone. Every part of my stack including the operating system, database, framework, web server and even the language is fully open source and represents a consensus of a large number of people

Mono is to GNU/Linux what spreading .docx files is to Office 2003. It’s a solution only to Microsoft (urged/forced upgrades); to the rest, it’s the solution in search of a problem.

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