Los Angeles politicians are proposing to redirect funds from software licenses to useful stuff like police officers and other public services. Specifically, the city wants to replace the Microsoft Office productivity suite with OpenOffice.org.

Microsoft Office occupies 26,000 computers at more than $200 per seat. OpenOffice.org is free. The city will save $5.2M if they change to the open source alternative.

If you didn't think Microsoft puts you in danger, there's no better illustration than the Los Angeles proposal. If governments stopped paying tax dollars for fundamental programs like word processing, spreadsheets and databases, there would be more money for actual services to citizens.

The word processor is not much different from the word processors of 10 or even 20 years ago. What Microsoft has done is programmed obsolescence into all their products. Before getting to incompatibility with standards or competitors, Microsoft Office is not even compatible with older versions of Microsoft Office.

When you buy something in meatspace, such as a car, you decide when the car no longer serves your purposes. You decide if any additional features warrant buying a new vehicle. You decide if it keeps rolling or gets replaced after a couple hundred thousand miles.

That's not the case with anything from Microsoft.

Code is code is code. There is no wear and tear with computer code. As long as the machine is running, code will execute the same way every time. Microsoft codes their stuff to break over time. On top of purposeful obsolescence, they have natural incompetence to deliver exceptionally insecure products.

Security arguments aside, purposeful obsolescence is wrong. There's no justification at all for forcing someone to pay for something that they were perfectly happy with using. When Microsoft decides they need money, they break their own document format by attaching features that nobody will use and/or poison the code via WindowsUpdate.

When they want you to pay, you'll pay. If you subvert the system and pirate their software, Microsoft owns you still. The city of Los Angeles doesn't have the piracy option. They will do what everyone should do: Install OpenOffice.org.

It's free. It's legal. It's polished. It works. It will keep working. The documents are not bloated. Documents can be imported from Word. Documents can be exported to Adobe PDF. Los Angeles or any other organization would be nuts to continue to deal with Microsoft Office when OpenOffice.org is under their complete control and saves $5M.

Between giving $5M for Microsoft Office and giving $5M to the police department, the cops win easily. Most taxpayers would agree. In 30 days, the Los Angeles City Council will receive a report from their technology agency on the financial and logistical details of migrating to open source in general and OpenOffice.org in particular. Stay tuned.

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