The adoption of the OpenDocument format as the standard for the State of Massachusetts’ future office documents appears to have prompted a last-minute legal amendment designed to undermine the state agency that approved it.
The Massachusetts Information Technology Division’s decision in early September to adopt OpenDocument 1.0 as the standard for all office documents by January 2007 was seen at the time as a significant victory for open standards, and potentially open source software. But it could end up costing the ITD some of its decision-making power following a last-minute amendment to the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee’s proposed Commonwealth Investment Act.
The bill contains the amendment that would create a seven-member information technology expert task force made up of political appointees to approve all state IT policies, standards, and procurement.
The amendment maintains that an executive agency or department shall not adopt or implement a policy, practice or standard concerning information technology standards or systems or the procurement or use of hardware, software, and cellular phones and other electronic devices, without the affirmative approval of the task force by majority vote.
Microsoft Corp’s disinclination towards supporting the OpenDocument standard, which is based on the XML schema developed by the OpenOffice.org open source applications community, has already made the State’s adoption of OpenDocument controversial, as Microsoft complained that it was being unfairly excluded.
It has subsequently become the center of a political tug of war as State Senator and chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, Marc Pacheco, held a meeting to quiz ITD CIO Peter Quinn about concerns related to the decision-making process, costs, and accessibility for users with limited eyesight.
Pacheco is also a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and according to reports of the meeting, also questioned Quinn and ITD general counsel Linda Hamel about the exclusion of Microsoft’s Office Open XML Formats from the State’s new Enterprise Technical Reference Model, OpenOffice, and the General Public License.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, whose office is responsible for the State Records Center, the Massachusetts Archive, and the Public Records Division among other things, also opposes the adoption of OpenDocument and does not plan to implement the format, according to reports.
While Massachusetts’ decision can been seen as a rejection of Microsoft’s Office, the wording of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model suggests that Microsoft does have options if it wants to be considered for Massachusetts. These would include introducing the ability to open and save documents in the OpenDocument Format into Office 12, or submitting the Office Open XML Formats to a recognized standards body.
Both options have been rejected by Microsoft on the grounds that it would rather keep control of the formats used in Office so it can provide backward-compatibility for the estimated 400 million Office users worldwide.
OpenOffice.org 2.0 and Sun Microsystems Inc’s StarOffice 8 already support OpenDocument, while Corel, IBM, KOffice, and Novell have also announced their intention to support it.