InfoWeek: OpenDocument tangled in MA political showdown

InfoWeek: OpenDocument tangled in MA political showdown

Summary: A story in InformationWeek is the first official news report offering some of the details behind a hearing that has been rushed onto Massachusetts' state Senate's docket regarding a recent decision by the Commonwealth's Information Technology Department (ITD) to standardize on the OpenDocument Format (ODF) for the creation, storage, editing, and retrieval of public documents.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Microsoft
20

A story in InformationWeek is the first official news report offering some of the details behind a hearing that has been rushed onto Massachusetts' state Senate's docket regarding a recent decision by the Commonwealth's Information Technology Department (ITD) to standardize on the OpenDocument Format (ODF) for the creation, storage, editing, and retrieval of public documents.  The state Senate is only in session for another two weeks which is why the hearing, currently scheduled for Oct 31, was rushed onto the docket so suddenly.

The InformationWeek story documents the political context to the current events, characterizing the ODF decision as a battleground between the state's Republican administration and two key Democrats: Senator Marc Pacheco and Secretary of State William Galvin. Pacheco chairs the state's Post Audit and Oversight Committee -- the committee that's holding this coming Monday's hearing.  Six of the committee's seven members are Democrats and the seventh, Senator Robert Hedlund, is a Republican.  

Although the ITD is an administrative department whose decisions are typically not subject to legislator input, the state's lawmakers obviously have the authority to investigate potential ethical violations that could impact the Commonwealth's procurement processes.  Microsoft has alleged that the process that led to the ODF decision involved irregularities that gave ODF an unfair advantage over the Redmond-based company's competing file formats (see Microsoft: We were railroaded in Massachusetts on ODF).  

In describing how both men oppose the ODF decision, the InformationWeek story says, "Generally, the two Democrats argue that the OpenDocument approach will unfairly block Microsoft from much of the state’s electronic documents business..."  The story however does not consider how Microsoft would not be blocked if the company decided to support ODF much the same way it has historically supported other non-Microsoft file formats including those of Corel's (eg: the Wordperfect word processor), Lotus (eg: the 1-2-3 spreadsheet program), HTML (the World Wide Web Consortium's standard markup language for Web pages), and more recently, Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF).  Yesterday, in responding to an inquiry by my colleague Dan Farber, Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie cited support issues rather than a matter of principle as the reason that Microsoft has so far decided not to support ODF. 

Should the Commonwealth's legislators overturn the ODF decision, it's still unclear what the ramifications might be on the global stage where dozens if not hundreds of governments, organizations, and companies have been keeping close watch on the course of events in Massachusetts.  Microsoft, by its own admission during a semi-public meeting in September, was in contact with the state's Senators prior to the file format policy's final ratification. To what extent that or any subsequent contact had anything to do with this coming Monday's hearings is not known. 

However, whereas such political avenues with US-based governments are routinely available to influential companies with domestic interests,  the same cannot be said for American companies looking to influence decisions beyond US borders.  According to a recent report by IDG's News Service, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) recently urged African Nations to embrace open source. NEPAD is backed by multiple African nations and is responsible for coming up with an economic framework that, amongst other goals, is designed to "halt the marginalization of Africa in the globalization process."  Should the African countries that embrace NEPAD's vision heed the organization's advice, the result could be far more devastating to Microsoft than the outcome of any single state's decision in the US. 

Topic: Microsoft

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

20 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I'm waiting for Quinn to ask

    "Senator, the Administration is open to suggestions. Could you please suggest a revision to the ETRM that would mandate Microsoft's file formats?"

    Yeah, I know, broken record (for those who remember where the phrase comes from.) Then again, I'd love to quit asking if someone would have a go at actually proposing a change instead of whinging.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Ducks in a row

    Personally I think they have their ducks in a row. I heard the public hearing and the issues are well know and understood. MS has one hell of a barrier to cross if they are to get there way. I don't think anyone once they understand the directive can with a straight face say it is bad.
    jjanks
    • Re: Ducks in a row

      I agree with you. I still don't understand why this should be a political decision. I was always under impression that democrats means democratic:) may be not. Anyway I wrote to all major Boston newspapers to consider the decision based on technical merits and not political considerations.
      PaulWallen
      • Political considerations

        [i]Anyway I wrote to all major Boston newspapers to consider the decision based on technical merits and not political considerations.[/i]

        Either way you get the same result.

        From a political perspective, you have the choice between a [b]bunch[/b] of New England software firms (read: constitutents' jobs) that would be implementing the ETRM and a Pacific Northwest software company that's trying to maintain its monopoly power.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Q: M$ is to Democrats

    as Haliburton is to Republicans?
    Roger Ramjet
    • A: Mass is governed by Republicans

      The last Democratic governor of Massachussetts was Michael Dukakis, who left office in 1991. Mitt Romney is the state's third consecutive Republican governor.

      Mind you, the Democrats still dominate the legislature and statewide offices, but it's been a while since they've had the top job.
      John L. Ries
  • Citizens Left Out

    Well we have the corporate sleazoids from Microsoft and the Open Source lunatics.

    But what about something like which format is going to be most useful to the citizens of the Commonwealth?

    I got a hint, it's not going to be ODF.
    kathygnome
    • Useful how?

      [i]I got a hint, it's not going to be ODF.[/i]

      I take it you've implemented SOA systems before and know what kind of exchange protocols work best?
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Just what do you think is it going to be?

      It definitely shouldn't be under the control of one vender. The cost of converting to the new standard also shouldn't be exorbitant. It has been stated that it will cost $5 million to go to ODF, and $50 million to convert to Office XML; numbers like this have to be in the interest of the citizens. Citizens also shouldn't be required to spend hundreds on new hardware and/or new applications to use the new format as they would with Office XML. 5 or 10 years from now, citizens shouldn't worry about what they are going to need to view 5 or 10 year old documents like they would with an Office XML format.

      Perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit until I see what you would suggest as an alternative to ODF and why it is better.
      Taz_z
    • Which citizens?

      You mean the 90% of computer users that don't know a file format from a pop tart?
      vdraken
      • Hey!

        [i]You mean the 90% of computer users that don't know a file format from a pop tart?[/i]

        You're dissing Microsoft's peer review system.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • LOL! (nt)

          .
          none none
      • Re. Which citizens?

        "You mean the 90% of computer users that don't know a file format from a pop tart?"

        They do so know the difference! Pop tarts are frosted. ;)
        Third of Five
  • Of course it's political.

    Those saying this is not a political issue simply don't understand politics. The "political issue" of gay marriage won Bush the White House folks...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • From car analogies to gay marriage ones

      Maybe politics is involved, but the technical, economic, and long term merits of staying away from proprietary solutions are overwhelming. Up to this point, nobody has provided a logical argument against the assertion that converting to ODF will cost $5 million and using Office XML will cost $50 million. Even John Carroll's main argument in support of his favorite proprietary solution is that "everybody" uses it -- isn't this more of political statement than a technical, economical, or long term one. Who in their right mind wants put the control of a data format that must remain accessible for an indefinite period of time with one vendor, besides you? Now *that* is a political solution, because the only people to gain from this in the long run are the politicians who will get those contributions from Microsoft. In the long term, Microsoft will get more in contributions from constituents who have to buy their products (and eventually new hardware) to view public documents.
      Taz_z
      • How do you know?

        You say:

        >the technical, economic, and long term merits
        >of staying away from proprietary solutions are
        >overwhelming.

        How do you know? Can you cite studies which prove this? And, if the merits are so overwhelming, why have users so stubbornly stuck with proprietary solutions? Stupidity? Evil monopolists? Both?

        John
        johnwsaundersiii@...
    • As was the (Republican influenced) DOJ decision

      to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory re the MS anti-trust trial outcome. ("Of course it's political.")

      What's your point? :-)

      If it was deemed "good" and acceptable then (by the pro-MS side), why an issue now?
      MacCanuck
    • Unreal

      Legislators saying that MS will be unfairly locked out of the market in Mass?

      If MS is locked out it's their own fault. Mass wanted an open, unencumbered format without the proprietary lock-in and without an artificial barrier to entry(cost of MS Office). MS has the option of supporting the chosen format. I they choose no to support it then they havelegtimate right to complain.

      Politically MS certainly has the money and power to corrupt the system and bully State legislators in Mass. But if any of these legislators succeed in pushing the MS agenda they should at the very least be indicted for mis-appropriation of State revenues.
      Tim Patterson
  • In the end of the article it mentions Africe getting left behind

    I can understand why they are PO'ed about that, but looking at the larger picture they have a lot more to worry about in Africa than software and open source. Like war, starvation, out of control disease, mass famine in emotion, ethnic division killing millions. Several hundred years of civil instability aided most assuradly by white people. The fact that they need open source, whatever, maybe Africa should take what is available and stabilize before they try to jump Maslow's pyramid.
    jmills@...
    • You do know Africa in more than one country right?

      :-)
      DemonX