Open Letter to Alan Yates of Microsoft

In his reply to the Massachusetts decision to use only documents in OpenDocument format, the Microsoft manager Alan Yates writes:
(paraphrased) Star Office, Open Office, KOffice and IBM Workplace are all derivatives of the same codebase. Thus there is only one program that supports Open Document, and that is illegal.
This is, of course, not true, and here is an open letter written by KOffice Marketing Coordinator Inge Wallin on behalf of the KOffice team which clarifies these facts.

Open Letter to

Alan Yates
General Manager
Microsoft Corporation

Dear Mr Yates,

It is with great interest that I have followed the debate that started
with the Massachusetts decision to
only exchange data with other parties in an open format, namely Open Document.
I must say that personally I find the reasoning behind the decision to
be sound, but I fully support your right to disagree with this

In your rather long, and doubtlessly well researched, reply
to the declaration, you make many points which I will not address
here, since others,
better suited than me, have already
. There is, however, one point where I feel that you have been
gravely misinformed by your research staff.

That point is the following. On page 7, and continuing on page 8 you

The draft policy identifies four products that support the
OpenDocument format: Sun's StarOffice,, KOffice, and
IBM Workplace. In reality, these products are slight variations of
the same StarOffice code base, which Sun acquired from a German
company in 1999. The different names are little more than unique
brands applied by the vendors to the various flavors of the code
base that they have developed. In essence, a commitment to the
OpenDocument format is a commitment to a single product or
technology. This approach to product selection by policy violates
well-accepted public procurement norms.

I understand your worries, but fortunately I am able to put your mind
to rest: KOffice is in fact
not related to StarOffice or OpenOffice. It is a completely
separate product, and a very fine one at that. One of our team
members, David Faure, was an active party in the creation of the OASIS
OpenDocument standard, and KOffice was the first office suite that
publicly announced support for it.

Just to add a bit to your knowledge of KOffice, I would like to
mention a few points:

  • KOffice is the most comprehensive of all office suites in
    existence, comprising no less than 11 different components in one
    well-integrated package.
  • These components include core office applications like KWord,
    KSpread and KPresenter, but also creativity applications like Krita
    (an advanced pixel based drawing tool), Kivio (flowcharts), Karbon
    (vector based drawing) and Kexi, an integrated environment for
    database applications not unlike to your own Access.
  • KOffice is very well integrated into KDE, the multiple award
    winning desktop environment on Linux, Solaris and other UNIX
  • KOffice is fully network-transparent and all components can send
    documents as mail, print to PDF files and store and load documents
    from countless different network servers.
  • Last, but not least: Within a year, KOffice will likely run on
    Windows as well.

In case you think that even two competing products will not be enough
to satisfy the "well-accepted public procurement norms", I can assure
you that they will soon not be alone. The fine word processor
AbiWord and the spreadsheet program Gnumeric, will
also soon support Open Document
due to an independent effort by a Nokia research lab.

I am sure that you are now much calmer, and if you want to know more,
you can always go to the KOffice
. You can also write to the KOffice mailing list and ask your
questions there.


Inge Wallin
Marketing Coordinator
On behalf of the KOffice Team


I made a Wikipedia article of OpenDocument in Finnish.


I tried to make it as useful as english version. I'll add more stuff when I have more time to do so.

By Antti Aspinen at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

Just some clarification for the first poster.
Quote: "the honorable State of Massachusetts."

Massachusetts is actually a Commonwealth.

By chris at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

I've always been curious about this. What exactly is the difference between the labeling "State" and "Commonwealth" exactly? Never got a clear precise defination.


By Johann Assam at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

In the case of the four commonwealths in the US there does not seem to be much difference.

By cm at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

I've always been curious about this. What exactly is the difference between the labeling "State" and "Commonwealth" exactly? Never got a clear precise defination.


By Johann Assam at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

in practice there are not many if any OpenDocument applications that are out of beta that run natively on OSX or Windows.

OpenOffice will be out soon-ish, but koffice still wont run natively on windows or MacOS. (where MS office does now).

Alan might have a fleeting point as of right now.

By scot at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

Not really, since he is using the new office format as base for his argument. And since MS Office 12 is not yet released, it's not available anywhere. Not like OpenDocument which is, in the way of public available betas of OpenOffice.

By Morty at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

Yes Alan is evil, i fully concede that ;) but m$ has office 2003 that has an XML file format now across the entire suite, the next rev will have semi-open document format across both Mac and Windows. I dont see a day coming soon that there will be a competing suite that runs on both OSX and Win32. OpenOffice does not run natively on OSX.

I am a Mac head and i would love something (anything ) to read all of the files that openOffice can output.

By scot at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

>I am a Mac head and i would love something (anything ) to read all of the files that openOffice can output.

Then I really think it's time for you to start bugging Apple about it. They already use XML in their new office thingie, iWorks??. Or whatever it's called. So if you Mac heads get together and ask/demand support for it, it's really no reason for Apple not to:-)

By Morty at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

OpenOffice 1.1.5 handles OpenDocument and has been out for a couple of weeks. Just install Linux on your Mac and run OpenOffice. See, it is simple.

By Ralph at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

NeoOffice/J is OpenOffice in a java wrapper.

Not completely native (depending on your definition of native) but very close.

By Lefty at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

neooffice is on the 1.1.4 code base, does not yet understand open document formats and they dont know when /if this will happen.

Again, making my point that maybe Alan has a point in that nothing uses this, on his perceived platforms (win32 and OSX) , anything that is not beta.

By scot at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

You keep repeating this, but nothing is using the "open" ms format either making your point void. That the current implementation of Office is able to use a XML format does not make any difference, the released versions of OpenOffice eg. 1.x series also uses XML.

By Morty at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

> in practice there are not many if any OpenDocument applications
> that are out of beta that run natively on OSX or Windows.
> Alan might have a fleeting point as of right now.

Alan mentioned KOffice himself and didn't bring up the fact that it is not available on Windows or the Mac (yet). His point wasn't about operating systems but about support by different implementations, i.e. acceptance of the format by different projects / vendors.

By cm at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

Besides, what does having the same codebase have to do with it? The worry is having the same company or organization control all the programs able to use Open Document. If Star Office, Open Office, KOffice and IBM Workplace were all owned by one company, that would be something to worry about. And even then, the Open Document format is still open. Someone could still make a new program to read and write it.

By Todd at Sun, 2005/09/25 - 5:00am

I agree. That's an important point that has been overlooked in the whole discussion.

But it's been so obvious that MS hasn't done their homework and wrong facts about KOffice have been spread, so it's not surprising that this open letter and the discussion are about their screwup and the correction of these wrong facts.

Besides you can interpret Mr. Yates' argument as implicitely referring to the technical soundness of the OpenDocument format. Then it *is* important to have more than one independent implementation as it demonstrates that OpenDocument is viable as a common format.

By cm at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

Yes, and if you open the Help/About dialog on M$ Exploder, you see that even MS Internet Explorer (TM) uses the same codebase as NCSA Mosaic.
Other sources (I don't know which, at the moment) have it that even Windows NT (TM) shares some of its codebase with BSD. Many W3C standard implementations (and I am sure there are MS implementations among them) share more or less code with some reference implementation. So what is Microsoft Corp. telling us other than it is driving another anti-Open-Source FUD-campaing at the moment?

By post-perpetruator at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

This is all crap... Koffice is the most what? Me cago de la risa! Come on! be serious!

By Gogo at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

If you don't like it or not, it is the most COMPREHENSIVE office suite.

I know this is marketing as I know the problems, but the statement is correct and not crap.

By Philipp at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

Pues cagate de la risa, porque KOFFICE ROCKS!!!

By Rubentm at Mon, 2005/09/26 - 5:00am

Here, have some toilet paper.

By Anonymous at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

I thought the letter was just fine. I especially liked the line: koffice will likely run on windows as well. Kind of like "we're coming in your yard too, Billy boy!"
Honestly, I've been operating free of Microshaft software for years now; the only reason I ever use it is out of necessity- compatibility issues with a law office that uses Word Imperfect, which no longer runs on Linux.
Let's face it: Microsoft and the open source community are exact opposites anymore. Open source developers generally have one interest in mind: getting the product to a usable state and getting it out where folks can use it. Microsoft has slightly more complicated motives: making a lot of money, selling advertising space on bundled PCs (you should have seen the load of ads that popped up the first time I booted this machine, before I FORMATTED the hard drive!) and policing and controlling at every turn how "their" software is sold, bought, used and even disposed of. And if you don't do it right, watch out. If this were a less free society, each person even accused of pirating Microsoft software might be thrown in the Lubyanka or something. Honestly, I get sick of hearing the views of big corporate bullies on the state of open source.
One thing that I can actually imagine Microsoft developers having pioneered would be the rigid piracy countermeasures embedded in the software. Heaven forbid that intellectual property should be shared as freely as speech, of which it is only really another form.
(If anyone reading this works at any of the above mentioned establishments, equal commiserations in any case.)

By some guy at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

M$ is panicking and worried about OpenDocument, just image the release of KDE4 (before MS Vista) with KOffice that runs in Windows as well. Then averages users will wonder why in fews months why they are still using Windows with KDE4, instead of Linux.

By NS at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

I just browsed through Yates' letter and it seemed Massachusetts had difficulties to decide between OpenDocument and XML format. Does anybody know what where the key arguments to turn down XML?


By Norman at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

I do know XML is *the* buzz word but damn, what do you think is the basemant for the OpenDocument format?

By Davide Ferrari at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

The OpenDocument format is in fact XML that adheres to specified schema definitions, but pure XML is not suitable for binary data like e.g. bitmap images embedded in a text document, or audio and video clips that might come with a presentation document. An interchangeable file format, however, must account for such things.
In the beginning, there actually where discussions about using one big XML file per document with binary data embedded as BASE64-encoded CDATA sections, but this approach was dropped in favour of a different solution: The OpenDocument definition consists of a set of XML schema definitions AND a definition of a directory tree that contains the various individual, but related (and possibly linked to each other), files that can make up an office document.
In addition, OpenDocument also specifies how this structure is to be delivered, more precisely, it specifies that this directory structure be packed into a zip file which then is the final document file. In addition to the user data, e.g. the typed text and images of a word processor document, each OpenDocument file contains metadata that describes the user data to processing applications and ensures proper interpretation, display, and editing of the contents.

By post-perpetruator at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

It was not XML, it was MS XML ;)

By Saren at Tue, 2005/09/27 - 5:00am

every body nows that Microsoft isn't right. you are right not him. he is crazy,
stupid etc.:))

By 9 Rich Guy at Sun, 2006/01/22 - 6:00am