Is Massachusetts' OpenDocument decision on the rocks?

Is Massachusetts' OpenDocument decision on the rocks?

Summary: Details are only sketchy at this point, but the Massachusetts Senate Post Audit Committee has apparently called for hearing to take place at 1pm on Monday October 31st  in hearing room A1 at the State House in Boston.  Massachusetts' recent ratification of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as one of two standard file formats (the other is Adobe's Portable Document Format) that all state agencies must start using on January 1, 2007 is apparently one of the issues to be discussed.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Details are only sketchy at this point, but the Massachusetts Senate Post Audit Committee has apparently called for hearing to take place at 1pm on Monday October 31st  in hearing room A1 at the State House in Boston.  Massachusetts' recent ratification of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as one of two standard file formats (the other is Adobe's Portable Document Format) that all state agencies must start using on January 1, 2007 is apparently one of the issues to be discussed.  The Commonwealth's CIO Peter Quinn is rumored to have been invited to testify.  Although Microsoft eventually announced support for PDF, the file formats decision has effectively bumped Microsoft's Office suite from the list of products that can be used by the state's 80,000 employees because it doesn't support ODF for creating, saving, retrieving and editing public documents.  Although Microsoft has informally said the matter of ODF support in Office still remains an open issue, so far the company has officially stated that it has no intention of supporting ODF.

Also unknown is the impetus for the meeting.  In a blog entry he posted late last week, Andy Updegrove, legal counsel to OASIS (the consortium that issued version 1.0 of the ODF specification), wrote that a reporter who contacted him "had been informed by the office of Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin that the Secretary 'would not approve' the new OpenDocument policy."

Based on what I've learned in the course of my reporting, Massachusetts' Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) of which the ODF/PDF decision is part, is an administrative matter that's not subject legislative proceedings. The only connection I can recall between  the ETRM deliberations and mention of legislators was an indication from Microsoft's Brian Burke during the last semi-public meeting on the matter (Sept 16) that he had been discussing the matter with the state's senators on Beacon Hill (Boston's equivalent of Capitol Hill).

Microsoft was clearly working other state government channels as the ETRM decision was nearing its conclusion.  Whether or not that activity has anything to do with the appearance of this hearing on the Senate's docket remains to be determined.  But, given how ODF may have been the catalyst for a new industry tipping point and given how many other governments and organizations have been watching the Massachusetts decision with a keen eye towards their own policies, I have little doubt that Microsoft as well as its biggest competitors will be present in full force to do whatever it takes to sway the outcome in their respective favors.

One question that sticks out in my mind is whether or not Microsoft will stick with the same starting pitcher it has used throughout the state's deliberations -- national technology officer Stuart McKee -- or will it bring in a heavier hitter to argue Microsoft's case.  If Microsoft gets to testify, look for the company to establish that the ETRM decision was reached by way of a process that, due to certain irregularities, was biased to the point that Microsoft's Office XML Reference Schema never had a chance of being approved.  At one point, Microsoft raised the charge of illegal procedure with me.  After an exhaustive investigation into the accusation, it appeared as though Microsoft was correct about the unusual order of events.  However, given that the Commonwealth remained open, and still does, to using Microsoft Office as long as it supports ODF (much the same way it has supported many other alternative formats to its own over the years), I was unable to prove an unfavorable disposition on behalf of the state against Microsoft.

More to come.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • I can see it now

    The Legislature passes a Bill authorizing Microsoft to dictate file formats for the Administrative Branch.

    Hmmm -- well, Don insists it could happen.

    I'm still waiting for someone to suggest revised wording for the ETRM that would include Microsoft's file formats. Interesting, isn't it, that there are no takers with all the Talkbacks written demanding that Massachusetts do just that?

    It can't be [b]that[/b] hard, can it?
    anonymous
  • I've heard nothing of this

    I've heard nothing of this to date. You might want to check in with Martin LaMonica, who followed up with Galvin's office after my post on what may or may not be going on.
    Andy Updegrove
  • In politics, money talks . . .

    Sad, but true.

    The MS proprietary formats will get added back in.
    Plain Logic
    • Care to take a flyer

      [i]The MS proprietary formats will get added back in.[/i]

      Care to suggest [b]how[/b]?

      The ETRM is an architecture document -- "use whatever you happen to like" will break it and render a chunk of the Commonwealth's government nonfunctional.

      It's [u]supposed[/u] to be a guide to contracted software, and "any file format you like" is a license to steal from the Commonwealth. So how, please tell us, does the Commonwealth specify Microsoft formats in sufficient detail to keep from buying another multibillion-dollar IRS throwaway?
      anonymous
  • Maybe

    But certainly it has been demonstrated yet again that bureaucrats are ultimately reponsible to and can be overruled by the politicians; attempts by the latter to pass the buck notwithstanding (when was the last time you heard a US President publicly admit to being the head of the civil service, which he is, as well as commander in chief of the armed forces?).

    I do think the correct decision was made, and that the Massachussetts officials in question had the right to make it, but the politicians are right to review the decision. After all, they're the people resonsible to the voters for the bureaucrats' actions (as little as they like to admit it). Hopefully, after due deliberation, they will do the right thing.
    John L. Ries
    • Separation of powers

      [i]Hopefully, after due deliberation, they will do the right thing.[/i]

      According to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the legislature doesn't get any say in the matter. The three branches get to make their own IT decisions.

      The only politician who gets any say in the matter is Governor Milt Romney -- and you can bet he's already been in the loop.
      anonymous
      • Thanks for the correction

        Oversight is, however, a normal legislative function, so the Senate committee appear to be doing their job as they should.

        I'm under the impression, though, that the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who is said by the article to get the final call (I too thought it would be the governor) is a separately elected official (most Secretaries of State are), rather than an appointee of the governor.

        My point remains. The complaints I've been hearing all my life about faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats are utter hogwash and always have been. The politicians don't like to admit it, but they are the ones responsible for public policy, not the bureaucrats, who more often than not, are trying to do the jobs the pols give them as best they can under often difficult circumstances (I've known too many public employees to buy the characature).
        John L. Ries
        • Ah, turf

          [i]I'm under the impression, though, that the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who is said by the article to get the final call (I too thought it would be the governor) is a separately elected official (most Secretaries of State are), rather than an appointee of the governor.[/i]

          Hmmm ...

          The CIO reports to the Secretary of Administration and Finance, who is an appointee of the Governor. The Secretary of the Commonwealth isn't the Secretary of State in that some other States have, responsible for the day-to-day operation of executive departments.

          In Massachusetts, the SotC is self-described as "the principal public information officer for the state government of Massachusetts." I can see how the Secretary would be concerned about the ETRM, but it doesn't sound like much of his turf is involved.
          anonymous
        • sometimes the stereotype fits

          [i]I've known too many public employees to buy the characature[/i]

          And I've known too many to discount it.
          __howard__
    • Depends

      [i]"...bureaucrats are ultimately reponsible[sic] to and can be overruled by the politicians"[/i]

      This politician is sticking his neck out a very long way - how does a single individual decide to override a decision made by a technical body and ratified by the administration?

      I'd like to read Mr William Francis Galvin's reasons why Massachusetts should stick with closed, proprietary file formats that require very expensive software to open, edit and use rather than requst Microsoft, with $40 billion in the bank, support an open, standard file format.

      All MS have to do is support ODS, and that's it.

      Maybe Japanese car manufacturers should complain because they must change their cars to left-hand-drive for the US market? Clearly the policy of LHD vehicles is aimed at excluding Japanese imports.
      Fred Fredrickson
    • Ayup.

      > "when was the last time you heard a US President publicly admit to being the head of the civil service, which he is, as well as commander in chief of the armed forces"

      And thanks to the administrations "contracts", he's managed to create a huge workforce that is employeed only because his party is in control. Gosh, I wonder which way they'll vote in the next election? ;-)
      Cardinal_Bill
  • It's always about money...

    Standards are nice, to be sure, but the budgetary implications of changing out MS Office in hundreds (thousands?) of state offices and retraining will be seen as an unnecessary cost. Especially after MS offers to sweeten the deal.
    broper
    • Maybe so

      but the total cost of the ETRM is orders of magnitude greater than the cost of the desktop client software -- it's almost all bespoke (custom) enterprise stuff.

      So far, the firms that would be developing those enterprise plumbing systems prefer standards.
      anonymous
    • That horse has been flogged already

      The cost of moving to Office 2003 and MS XML formats was estimated at about $50 million. The cost of Open Office and ODF was about $5 million.

      That is the real reason MS are crying foul, because if they support ODF they will have to compete with open source.

      It may be about money, but not [b]that[/b] money!
      Fred Fredrickson
  • David, I think your characterization is questionable

    From the post: "Massachusetts' recent ratification of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as one of two standard file formats (the other is Adobe's Portable Document Format) that **all state agencies** must start using on January 1, 2007 is apparently one of the issues to be discussed." [my emphasis]

    You have cited Andrew Updegrove on a couple occasions. You may also be familiar with his summary of the MA TLC decision. He personally posted a link to it in comments to your well researched article on the MA TLC decision vis-a-vis Microsoft. In it Updegrove says, that the ETRM ONLY applies to the MA Executive Agency, in other words, the executive branch of government: the governor's offices, etc. It does NOT apply to the legislative or judicial branches. As was pointed out in the Sept. 16 meeting, which you've undoubtably listened to, an attorney can be heard giving an explanation to this effect. There has been judicial precedent on this matter. No branch of the MA government can set mandates or standards for the other branches. It's illegal to do so under state law. The only way I can imagine your characterization of "all state agencies" being accurate is if all state agencies, however you would define them, were under the jurisdiction of the executive branch. If this is the case, then I stand corrected. But at this point I don't believe your characterization is accurate.
    Mark Miller
    • I can't speak for Massachusetts but ...

      ... at the Federal level, all agencies do fall under the Executive Branch. Congress writes laws directing these agencides but the agencies still work for the Executive Branch. An excellent example is the IRS -- which falls under the Secretary of the Treasury but which is directed, through the IRS tax code, written by Congress, how to conduct its business.
      M Wagner
  • Not the first time

    Any time a state government starts talking about setting a preference for open source software or document formats, MSFT is right there to start lobbying up and down the chain until they find someone they can pay off.

    It's happened in Oregon and Washington state that I know about and I'm sure that's not all of them. If state agencies are running tests on open source software the smart ones keep it quiet until the system is deployed. If it gets out MSFT will start making phone calls to legislators reminding them how much money their software products bring in to the state. It wasn't that long ago MSFT was lobbying the city governments in Germany to stop desktop Linux.

    MSFT is using your money to buy influence with state legislators that ends up costing you more money. You might ask yourself if open source products are so inferior why MSFT spends so much money and resources making sure government doesn't have the ability to conveniently utilize them?

    The only reason we even heard about MA is because MSFT lost the public round. Ever since I guarantee they've engaged in back room arm twisting, spreading cash around, hiring the best lobbyists your money can buy to find a pressure point to get the OpenDocument format squashed. This isn't an isolated response, I've seen it happen.

    And the funny part, it's your money their using to do all this.
    Chad_z
    • And, of course, you have solid proof of this,

      right? Okay, let's see it. Come on, we are all waiting with anticipation for this final proof that Microsoft has paid off politicians in order to get their way.

      If it exists, it should be easy to provide. So, pony up.

      Waiting patiently.
      Confused by religion
      • well Milly wow

        call like that are the reason why i start drinking again
        you are uber naive or you lack any sense of memory ..
        First proof , you will never have proof its a money job there no proof

        second even if caught there always a good reason, that why there are politian there are sleek and slipery

        i dont know for USA because i dont live there but in Canada with the sponsorship scandal i have seen about anything ..and let me tell you that microshot have way more mean that the Liberal gov in canada .....

        So dont ever expect anything clean from politian and money .....

        if M$ find the right guy and pay enough they will have what they want .......

        the only solution should that a refenendum should be held for any public long term choice like in swiss or sweden.
        lets the poeple choose.Explain them the reality and the cost. M$ would be in deep trouble. Because when the poeple are involve they cannot bride 4 million peple .........
        there dirty job are done all the time and not realizing it its a shame and its pure naive stuff.

        toxicfreak
        toxicfreak
        • So, TF, where dat beer again?

          .
          Confused by religion