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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Open Formats Legislation Killed in Florida

According to an article in in Linux.com (Microsoft’s ‘Men in Black’ kill Florida open standards legislation By: Robin Miller et al. Linux.com, April 17, 2007), legislation in the state of Florida that would have required the state to develop “a plan and a business case” for using open file formats in documents the state creates was removed from the legislation after Microsoft lobbyists complained about it. Within 24 hours of the amendment being added three Microsoft-paid lobbyists started pressuring members of the Senate Committee on Governmental Operations (COGO) to remove the words they didn’t like from Senate bill 1974.

David Berlind has pointed out (Linux.com: Microsoft issues campaign funding ultimatum to open standards legislation backers, ZDnet.com, April 18th, 2007) that the Linux.com article relies on a lot of anonymous sources and, in a quick check of Google News and LexisNexis this morning, I didn’t find any other sources verifying the story, yet.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that Microsoft and others who have lots of money invested in proprietary document formats would oppose legislation requiring open formats. Matt Asay (Microsoft tries to maintain its monopoly…are you surprised?, Inforworld, April 18, 2007) quotes the Linux.com article and notes:

Microsoft has tens of billions of dollars to protect…. Microsoft will do everything in its power to block open source and open standards. It has, in a very real sense, a fiduciary duty to try to kill it.

We at FGI are strong advocates of open formats for government information because we believe that open formats provide a better opportunity for open exchange, reuse, and preservation of public information. University of Florida political science student Gavin Baker, one of the authors of the Linux.com article, has a useful presentation online (Sustaining the Information Society: New (and Old) Conflicts in the Knowledge Economy, by Gavin Baker, Presented at Campus & Community Sustainability University of Florida Oct. 25-26, 2006) that makes the point quite well. The Linux.com article says of the presentation:

…use of open data formats isn’t just about short-term financial savings, but is also about long-term preservation of knowledge; … proprietary data formats come and go at a dizzying rate, but with open, standardized ones we have a chance to read today’s saved information in 50 or 500 years, even if Microsoft or Corel or (fill in popular word processor vendor) is long gone, along with its patented or otherwise “protected” data formats.

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