PDF won't cut it

PDF won't cut it

Summary: The recent move by Microsoft to support PDF in Office 12 has some asking whether or not that will pour oil on troubled waters and allow Massachusetts government employees to go on using Word to edit and store documents.  By my reading of the Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Manual (ETRM), the policy that governs data formats and standards for the State, PDF won't work.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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The recent move by Microsoft to support PDF in Office 12 has some asking whether or not that will pour oil on troubled waters and allow Massachusetts government employees to go on using Word to edit and store documents.  By my reading of the Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Manual (ETRM), the policy that governs data formats and standards for the State, PDF won't work.  Here's what it says about open document format (ODF):

The OpenDocument format must be used for office documents such as text documents (.odt), spreadsheets (.ods), and presentations (.odp). 

Notice the word "must" in there.   Here's what it says about PDF:

The PDF format may be used for documents whose content and structure will not undergo further modifications and need to be preserved. Agencies can use a number of proprietary and open source products to create PDF files.

Notice that it says "may" and gives a condition to guide when PDF is appropriate: for documents that won't be edited further.  The PDF section is under the header "Other Data Formats" leading one to believe that it's not considered a "primary" format by the ETRM. 

You may think that the policy only applies to documents that are going to be on a Web site or otherwise used by the public, but the heading to the data formats section (where the OpenDocument requirement lives) states (emphasis is in original):

It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that all official records of the Commonwealth be created and saved in an acceptable format as detailed below.

"All" is a pretty high percentage.  An official record can be almost any document that any government worker touches.  There's probably a legal definition somewhere in Massachusetts' law, but we would be pretty safe in assuming that anything that could be requested under the State's equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act constitutes an official record and that's almost everything.  When I became CIO for Utah, I was shocked at how wide the definition of "official record" is.  I can't imagine thousands of state workers storing their working documents in PDF.    The fact that this sentence is in bold type is a big clue.

It's difficult for someone from the private sector to understand the amount of work that goes into a document like the ETRM before it's issued by a state CIO.  The review process is long and every point is scrutinized and argued over.  I don't think that Peter Quinn and his co-workers chose these words lightly.    I think they know exactly what they say and what the ramifications are: PDF doesn't cut it.  Nothing short of Office support for ODF will do. 

Things can change.  CIOs come and go.  But until they do, I think Microsoft is going to have to put up or shut up in Massachusetts.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Retraction or plug-in?

    The MA officials have set a deadline of January 1, 2007 for their efforts to change MA government to ODF.

    We also know that Microsoft will not support ODF in Office.

    We also know that almost all MA State employees know nothing about the programs that do deal with ODF. This would be a major change to occur in a year.

    I appreciated this quote:
    It's difficult for someone from the private sector to understand the amount of work that goes into a document like the ETRM before it's issued by a state CIO.

    It is, I suspect, even more difficult to undertake the planning and training and implementation for a change as major as the elimination of Office in many individual State agencies.
    Particularly when the current ways of doing business are acceptable to those agencies, and the new policy appears an assertion of ideological principle by a group in IT.

    May not happen here, but there have been many situations in which an attempt on the part of IT to gain authority over other parts of an organization without a strong justification based on the organization's mission has led to... replacement of IT staff.

    A lot to be done in a year. Trust they're moving fast. This seems so unlikely that I had excluded it as a possibility, but one should never make assumptions about the self-righteous.

    A plug-in converting from current formats to ODF would resolve the problems. But the question becomes whether ideological purity would permit such a step. Particularly when the rest of the State government has a strong and reasonable temptation to ignore it.

    The ball is back in the MA officials' court.
    Anton Philidor
    • Also understand how much is already in PDF format.

      The state of Mass. had little choice but to include PDF as "acceptable" due to it's already wide spread use.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
  • It's a long ways off and many elections to go.

    That is the great thing about our political system, if there is something you don't like you can work to change it by supporting candidates that share your view point.

    Interestingly the argument put forth by Mass. is they want a document that can be opened say 20 years from now. That is they are concered with archiving said documents. Obviously PDF meets that requirement nicely. Editing a document can and often has different meanings. If a document has a "field" to be filled in by a citizen of the sate it is in fact being editied and PDF allows for that quite nicely.

    Also understand that MS obtained a license from Adobe and as a partner will have some input in the future versions of PDF. I see no reason additional functionality can't be added.

    No, what you and others really seem to be upset about is that you thought MS had stumbled and encumbered source was a shoe in and now it's not...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Elections are unnecessary.

      Any format restrictions are not mandated directly by legislation.

      All that's necessary is for someone with authority to order a review of implementation, with delay. (Wouldn't want a confrontation.)

      Such reviews have continued until the circumstances leading to a decision have changed.

      WS Gilbert wrote a great song about the way in which rationality is admitted into government operations, and lunatics humored:


      Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
      When he to rule our land began,
      Resolved to try
      A plan whereby
      Young men might best be steadied.

      So he decreed, in words succinct,
      That all who flirted, leered or winked
      (Unless connubially linked),
      Should forthwith be beheaded.

      And I expect you'll all agree
      That he was right to so decree.
      And I am right,
      And you are right,
      And all is right as right can be!
      CHORUS

      And you are right.
      And we are right, etc

      This stern decree, you'll understand,
      Caused great dismay throughout the land!
      For young and old
      And shy and bold
      Were equally affected.
      The youth who winked a roving eye,
      Or breathed a non-connubial sigh,
      Was thereupon condemned to die--
      He usually objected.

      And you'll allow, as I expect,
      That he was right to so object.
      And I am right,
      And you are right,
      And everything is quite correct!
      CHORUS


      And you are right,
      And we are right, etc.

      And so we straight let out on bail
      A convict from the county jail,
      Whose head was next
      On some pretext
      Condemned to be mown off,
      And made him Headsman, for we said,
      "Who's next to be decapited
      Cannot cut off another's head
      Until he's cut his own off."

      And we are right, I think you'll say,
      To argue in this kind of way;
      And I am right,
      And you are right,
      And all is right--too-looral-lay!
      CHORUS

      And you are right,
      And we are right, etc.
      Anton Philidor
      • Who would you suggest?

        [i]All that's necessary is for someone with authority to order a review of implementation, with delay. (Wouldn't want a confrontation.)[/i]

        The Government of Massachusetts is pretty well documented. Who would you suggest that has the authority to order another review of the ETRM, keeping in mind that there are statutory requirements for review of process?
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Surly you jest...

          Any law/rule can be un-done, usually faster than it was done.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Nice dodge, Don

            I notice that you avoided answering the question.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Why review the ETRM?

          Any date in a document is tentative, subject to a delay because of circumstances which were not known at the time the document was prepared.

          Certainly any project, even one helpful to the organization, can be subject to a delay in the course of planning and implementation.

          If someone were to make such an announcement, you would agree that person was right to argue in that kind of way.

          Head off the problems.

          It's the idealists who create the most problems, isn't it?!
          Anton Philidor
          • Your point?

            [i]Any date in a document is tentative, subject to a delay because of circumstances which were not known at the time the document was prepared.[/i]

            Anton, that's the kind of dodging the question that I expect from Don, not from you. You proposed that, quote:

            [i] All that's necessary is for someone with authority to order a review of implementation, with delay. (Wouldn't want a confrontation.)[/i]

            All I asked is that you suggest candidates for "someone with authority."
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Any project has an organizational structure.

            No dodge.

            I wrote that delay would prevent problems quietly:

            All that's necessary is for someone with authority to order a review of implementation, with delay. (Wouldn't want a confrontation.)

            and a delay would be a reasonable action because:

            Any date in a document is tentative, subject to a delay because of circumstances which were not known at the time the document was prepared.


            Who can determine that a delay in a project's conclusion date is appropriate? Anyone with authority over the project.
            If there are names already identified as in overall charge of the project, then that person or those persons can authorize either a general delay or delays at a given agency.


            I was thinking about spreadsheets developed by accountants, which tend to be elaborate.

            A spreadsheet can be replicated with software other than Excel. An accountant can decide that this is an appropriate effort and not complain.

            But the accountants of my acquaintance tend not to be the most tolerant people of disruptive changes. Particularly when those changes do not improve working conditions.

            Yes, a delay will seem reasonable.
            Anton Philidor
    • Why would they choose an editor they have to pay for?

      I don't know if any open source PDF writer that you can open up, save, edit and go on that is essentially free. Remember that most people don't need office. Most people, including myself, really only need Write or something similar. Why pay for such a commodity product when one is free?

      If you need some heavy duty Excel or Word formatting, maybe you should use Office. But I have not encountered one type of formatting that can't be done basically in Write. And if you need some major formatting, you're better off using Publisher, way way easier to control.

      So the easy solution is to use a format where the typical user can go without the expense of MS Office and those few who need it get it. And everyone can exchange documents.

      If MS office allowed for the format and you really needed all the extra bells of MS office, then buy it. If not, use Write or OpenOffice and be happy you have $300 bucks you didn't need to spend.
      agramont@...
      • The MA officials said all the documents...

        must be in odx formats. And Microsoft has said it will not support odx.

        So this wouldn't work:
        So the easy solution is to use a format where the typical user can go without the expense of MS Office and those few who need it get it. And everyone can exchange documents.

        Anyone who uses Office has to change. And anyone who loses some functionality or convenience feature in Office loses it.

        And in return, they get... the satisfaction of knowing that someone in IT helped promote an obscure document format for ideological reasons.

        The regular employees will carry the instigators of this policy on their shoulders in joy and triumph. And dump them outside the building before the celebration begins.
        Anton Philidor
        • Anton, Anton

          [i]And in return, they get... the satisfaction of knowing that someone in IT helped promote an obscure document format for ideological reasons.[/i]

          For one thing, governments are in the [b]business[/b] of ideology. Stuff like "We, the people of these United States" and "Congress shall make no law," all that. I guarantee you that the Bill of Rights was not enacted for pragmatic business reasons.

          Beyond that, the ETRM is a very comprehensive document that spells out a detailed enterprise architecture with careful attention to being adaptable to future requirements. Building it around closed MS formats would, in many cases, be flatly impossible without compromising bedrock enterprise requirements (such as vendor-neutrality in purchasing specs.)

          Now: in a contest between low-level workers who are peeved about losing their favorite macros and an enterprise computing architecture, who [b]should[/b] get the last word?
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Politics and business.

            When the Constitution was being written, the delegates, including James Madison, felt it unnecessary to specify what government may not do.

            For one thing, because they were afraid of the implication that the enumerated rights would be considered thje only ones people had.
            But even more important, they believed that the Federal authority had so few and tightly defined powers that nothing further was needed.

            The people at the State ratification conventions had much more sense. Many of them observed that a limited government grows over time, and people needed specific protections to escape tyranny, as much as possible.
            They made approval conditional on a Bill of Rights.

            Even Madison was persuaded.
            So, when Congress met Madison was delegated to write a letter to Geo Washington saying that a Bill of Rights was needed.
            Geo Washington designated Madison to write a letter to Congress saying that a Bill of Rights was a great idea; go for it.
            Congress respected the venerable Geo Washington and chose Madison to draft up a Bill of Rights for their review.

            In those days, government worked.

            At any rate, when you wrote:

            I guarantee you that the Bill of Rights was not enacted for pragmatic business reasons.

            You were right.
            It was enacted for pragmatic political reasons, getting the Constitution ratified.
            That's business for politicians, but technically you're correct.

            There is a difference between governance and business, and people keep winning office by saying they will make government more like a business. They fail.

            Government does make more allowance for the attitudes of those designated to hold authority than does an ordinary business, but are you sure that you want to defend this as a good thing?


            You also wrote:
            Beyond that, the ETRM is a very comprehensive document that spells out a detailed enterprise architecture with careful attention to being adaptable to future requirements. Building it around closed MS formats would, in many cases, be flatly impossible without compromising bedrock enterprise requirements (such as vendor-neutrality in purchasing specs.)

            Would you be surprised to learn that every other State in the US has managed to meet IT requirements without use of odx formats?
            Many even satisfy the demands of good governance with Office, somehow.

            The exception these officials made of MA is to me not a recommendation.

            Finally, you wrote:
            Now: in a contest between low-level workers who are peeved about losing their favorite macros and an enterprise computing architecture, who should get the last word?

            Given that the "enterprise computing architecture" appears to consist in part of the wayward attitudes of the State version of executives, and given the great difficulties of doing the State's business under normal circumstances, and given my view that users know better than the IT staff how to do their jobs and that they should have the freedom to use the software that helps them do their jobs...

            Why, of course, I agree with you completely. (;-))
            Anton Philidor
          • On rights.

            Might as well add,
            the Supreme Court is not violating original intent when they identify more rights for people than are specified in the Constitution.
            Though I do wish they'd stop using absurd arguments like the "penumbra" of enumerated rights to justify their position.

            The "right to be let alone" is the most significant addition, in my view. It is a bit vague, but I like the spirit.

            The danger is not when it's used to restrain government from doing something. The problem for me is when Judges finds the government is compelled to a certain action.
            If Judges are going to determine government actions, they should run for office like the rest of the politicians.

            Way off topic. Thanks for your patience.
            Anton Philidor
          • OT?

            [i]Way off topic. Thanks for your patience.[/i]

            OT maybe, but good reading regardless. And I'm not in the least sure it's actually OT.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
  • I agree

    PDF is great. I use it everyday for various things, but it is, in my opinion, a better delivery (final) format than it is an 'open' choice for further editing.

    For example, I, like many people, use OpenOffice.org, and when I create a word processing document, I save it under whatever the default format is, and then, if I need to send a copy of it to someone, I convert the word processing file to a PDF for FINAL DELIVERY.
    opensourcepro