It's official. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has posted on its web site its final decision, namely to use only formats that conform to the Open Document format for office productivity applications, a format Microsoft so far does not support, although they are certainly free to do so.
You can read the Enterprise Technical Reference Model, Version 3.5 for yourself, or read about it on News.com. I'd like to make a small correction to the News.com story, though. This action does not shut Microsoft out of the state's procurement process, as the lead states. This isn't, at this point, about procurement. And more importantly, if there is any shutting out, it's Microsoft shutting itself out. They are free to support open standards, if they wish to.
That is the thing about standards. Anyone can support them, Microsoft included. If you listened to the taped audio of the meeting between Massachusetts and Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Adobe and other interested parties, Secretary Eric Kriss made it quite clear. News.com's article references that audio:
Massachusetts officials defended their decision, saying the move will save the state money, make sure that state records will be preserved over time, and ensure its "sovereignty."
Microsoft could still be part of the state's procurement policy by meeting its definition of open formats, Kriss said at an open-format meeting, which was held last Friday with the Mass Technology Leadership Council.
Kriss said that Microsoft's Office formats would have to be free of or have minimal legal encumbrances and be a standard that is subject to peer review by organizations outside Microsoft. He added that Microsoft document formats would have to be subject to "joint stewardship" by a standards body not controlled by one company or a small consortium.
"If you were to do (those things), we would be delighted to do a technical comparison of your standards and the OpenDocument standard," Kriss said, addressing a Microsoft representative.
Another error is saying that all the other office applications that are acceptable are "variants" of OpenOffice.
The bottom line is this: whose documents are they? Do the people of Massachusetts have the right to control their own documents? Does a governmental agency have the right to decide what software it wishes to use, particularly if it believes it can save money? If it does, then all the hue and cry is pointless. And the real issue, as Kriss pointed out, is the issue of sovereignty, and the very important issues of access and control not only now but also in the distant future.
When I listened to the audio of the meeting, I got the impression that Microsoft and friends were trying to pressure Massachusetts into changing the decision, and I felt there was an implied threat in accusations of undue speed and other charges. I take Kriss' words about sovereignty to be Massachusetts' answer to the implied threat. The Commonwealth believes it has the right to choose whatever software works best for their purposes, in their studied view. If Microsoft wishes to meet the Commonwealth's needs, it should do so. Kriss told them precisely what they would need to do to be included. The ball is now in Microsoft's court, and I hope they will make the needed adjustments.