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.