OpenDocument adoption

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Massachusetts has also been examining its options for implementing XML-based document processing. In early 2005, Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration and Finance in Massachusetts, was the first government official in the United States to publicly connect open formats to a public policy purpose: "It is an overriding imperative of the American democratic system that we cannot have our public documents locked up in some kind of proprietary format, perhaps unreadable in the future, or subject to a proprietary system license that restricts access." [1]

At a September 16 2005 meeting with the Mass Technology Leadership Council Kriss stated that he believes this is fundamentally an issue of sovereignty. [2] While supporting the principle of private intellectual property rights, he said sovereignty trumped any private company's attempt to control the state's public records through claims of intellectual property. [3]

Subsequently, in September 2005, Massachusetts became the first state to formally endorse OpenDocument formats for its public records and, at the same time, reject Microsoft's proprietary XML format, now named Microsoft Office Open XML format (see WordprocessingML). This decision was made after a two-year examination of file formats, including many discussions with Microsoft, other vendors, and various experts. Microsoft Office, which has a nearly 100% market share among the state's employees, does not currently support OpenDocument formats. Microsoft has indicated that OpenDocument formats will not be supported in new versions of Office, even though they support many other formats (including ASCII, RTF, and WordPerfect), and analysts believe it would be easy for Microsoft to implement the standard. If Microsoft chooses not to implement OpenDocument, Microsoft will disqualify themselves from future consideration. Several analysts (such as Ovum) believe that Microsoft will eventually support OpenDocument.

After this announcement by Massachusetts supporting OpenDocument, a large number of people and organizations spoke up about the policy, both pro and con (see the references section). Adobe, Corel, IBM, and Sun all sent letters to Massachusetts supporting the measure. In contrast, Microsoft sent in a letter highly critical of the measure. A group named "Citizens Against Government Waste" (CAGW) also opposed the decision. The group claimed that Massachusetts' policy established "an arbitrary preference for open source," though both open source software and proprietary software can implement the specification, and both kinds of developers were involved in creating the standard (CAGW, 2005). Many considered this group's statement as simply a paid statement by Microsoft; InternetNews and Linux Weekly News noted that CAGW has received funding from Microsoft, and that in 2001 CAGW was caught running an astroturfing campaign on behalf of Microsoft when two letters they submitted supporting Microsoft in Microsoft's anti-trust case, were found to have the signatures of deceased persons (Linux Weekly News). James Prendergast, executive director of a coalition named "Americans for Technology Leadership" (ATL), also criticized the state's decision in a Fox News article (Prendergast 2005). In the article, Prendergast failed to disclose that Microsoft is a founding member of ATL. Fox News later published a follow-up article disclosing that fact (FOX News, 2005; Jones, September 29 2005).

State Senator Pacheco and State Secretary of State Galvin have expressed reservations about this plan. Pacheco held a hearing on October 31, 2005, on the topic of OpenDocument. Pacheco did not want OpenDocument to be declared as the executive branch standard, primarily on procedural grounds. Pacheco believed that the executive branch had to receive permission to set an executive standard from the multi-branch IT Advisory Board. In contrast, ITD (including its general council) believe the Advisory board's role is to advise ITD, and ITD did discuss the issue with the IT Advisory Board, but ITD's Peter Quinn and Linda Hamel (ITD's General Counsel asserted that there is no requirement that "ITD approach the Advisory Board for permission to adopt policies that will impact only the Executive Department." Hamel later filed a legal briefing justifying ITD's position (Hamel, 2005). Massachusetts' Supreme Court has ruled that the various branches of government are prohibited from mandating IT standards on each other; this ruling appears to support ITD's claim. Pacheco also did not like the process used to select OpenDocument. However, Pacheco appears to have had many fundamental misunderstandings of the issues. Andy Updegrove said that at the time, "Senator Pacheco doesn't understand the difference between open source and open standards (and certainly doesn't understand the difference between OpenDocument and OpenOffice). More than once, he indicated that he thought that the policy would require the Executive Agencies to use OpenOffice.org, not realizing that there are other compliant alternatives. He also thought that this would act to the detriment of Massachusetts software vendors, who (he thinks) would be excluded from doing business with the Commonwealth." Pacheco also thought that OpenOffice.org was under the GPL, but in fact it is released under the LGPL (Jones, October 31, 2005) (Jones, November 14, 2005). He attempted to halt implementation of OpenDocument in the executive branch via an amendment (to S. 2256), but the amended bill was never sent to the governor.

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox believes that Pacheco and Galvin's opposition to OpenDocument has less to do with technology than with politics, saying, "before debating Microsoft versus OpenDocument formats, I would consider political factors." Galvin and Pacheco are both Democrats, while Governor Mitt Romney is a Republican. Romney is expected to announce soon whether he will run for a second term as governor; he is widely rumored to be considering leaving the position to prepare for a 2008 presidential campaign. If Romney runs for a second term as governor, Galvin may become a direct rival to Romney, with both running for the governor's seat (Mook, October 25, 2005).

Senator Michael W. Morrissey has since proposed a new amendment, apparently at the suggestion of Secretary Galvin, that would give control over ITD and standards-setting to a task force that would be controlled by Secretary Galvin (Democrat) instead of Governor Mitt Romney (Republican). At this time these efforts to halt ODF implementation have not succeeded (Jones, November 18, 2005).