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Monday's Big Meeting - Updated 2Xs
Wednesday, October 26 2005 @ 02:13 PM EDT

No doubt you've seen the stories about a pushback against Massachusetts' decision to go with OpenDocument Format. If not, here is one by Hiawatha Bray, in the Boston Globe and David Berlind writes about the situation here.

Like you thought Microsoft's money wasn't any good any more? Kidding. Sorta But you had to know they'd try something.

It looks to me like we'd all better use their software so no one gets hurt. Any government that decides to use OpenDocument Format will be sat on. At least that is how it appears to me. Berlind writes this:

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.

Hahahahaha. "Yet to be determined." He slays me. I know. He absolutely has to say that, absent conclusive facts. And I'll try to keep an open mind. But I am allowed to laugh.

So, there's this big meeting on Monday, October 31, in Boston, at the State House, room A1, from 1 to 5. It's open to the public, and I think it's very important that there be witnesses to what transpires. Dan Bricklin may not be able to be there, and so we can't rely on him doing an audio recording of the entire event, something that proved unbelieveably helpful at the last public meeting. I hope some of you will be able to attend, so we don't have to rely on hearsay accounts.

Be polite. Don't tape unless they say you can, but send me everything you learn, all you hear, what everyone says, and I'll write up a composite report.


Berlind has more, following an Information Week story:

Although the ITD is an administrative department whose decisions are typically not subject to legislator input, the state's lawmakers obviously have the authority to investigate potential ethical violations that could impact the Commonwealth's procurement processes. Microsoft has alleged that the process that led to the ODF decision involved irregularities that gave ODF an unfair advantage over the Redmond-based company's competing file formats (see Microsoft: We were railroaded in Massachusetts on ODF).

The InformationWeek story says, "Generally, the two Democrats argue that the OpenDocument approach will unfairly block Microsoft from much of the state’s electronic documents business…" As Berlind correctly points out, that is absolute nonsense. Microsoft has blocked itself. All it needs to do is support ODF, and if it not capable of doing that, when a bunch of college kids and volunteers can, they need to think about getting back to basics. Maybe spend a little more on code and a little less on FUD? You think? [End Update.]

Here's what the Boston Globe says will be on the agenda on Monday, and I do mean agenda:
State Senator Marc R. Pacheco, Democrat of Taunton, chairman of the Senate's Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, said he asked Quinn months ago for a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the software changeover. ''We never received it until just recently, after a second request," Pacheco said. He has forwarded the analysis to the state auditor's office for review.

Pacheco also said the Legislature should have a say in the data format decision. His committee will hold a hearing Monday at the State House. Along with cost concerns, the hearing will address worries that OpenDocument may not be easily usable by people with physical disabilities. Microsoft Office has features to help users with limited eyesight. Pacheco said he has received questions from state employees worried they might not be able to use the new file format.

A friend in need is a friend indeed. Obviously, Senator Pacheco has a preference before he's received information at the hearing. I believe that Peter Quinn is one of the people that will be called to speak and/or answer questions from the committee. I assume there will be representatives from Microsoft and others, though I don't know what type of mix.

The number to call for information is (617) 722-1551. That's the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight. State Senator Marc R. Pacheco is head of the committe, I think. More information can be found here. And here's a list of all the state's representatives and senators. The State House is on Beacon Street; it's the building on the hill with the gold dome. Here's information on access regarding those with disabilities, from Everybody's Guide to Open Document:

First of all, nothing in OpenDocument itself works against vision impairment. Second, nobody prevents MS Office from supporting OpenDocument. Finally, the Massachusetts FAQ explicitly says that "agencies can retain copies of MS Office as needed for disabled employees and other citizens. The legal rights of employees and other citizens with disabilities will take precedence over any particular implementation of the policy". The policy even "permits agencies to keep their existing MS licenses as long as the software supporting them includes a method for saving documents in OpenDocument Format". So, after reading these articles against OpenDocument and the Massachusetts FAQ, one has to wonder what these complaints actually are about--apart, of course, from perpetuating an existing monopoly.

This is important to get clear. Those with disabilities can be assured that they will be able to function, despite the FUD in the air. And note what the Boston Globe says about using Microsoft in government:

Most state government offices use Microsoft Office to generate documents. Microsoft Office stores files in a unique format invented by Microsoft. Some features of the Microsoft file format are incompatible with office software made by rival firms, making it difficult and expensive for a company to switch from Microsoft to some other brand of software. It also means that people using other programs may not be able to read public documents generated by state agencies.

Isn't that enough of a reason to use ODF, right there? People who say, "I want my Microsoft," are saying they don't care about the millions of citizens who like to use other operating systems. Can a government say they don't care about large chunks of its citizens, just to please a software company or even to please a larger chunk of users? I'm not a political person, so maybe I'm looking at it too simply. But isn't it part of a government's role to make sure access for all to government documents is ensured? Those with disabilities need access. But so do people using Apple and GNU/Linux systems. That is the point of using open standards/open formats. No one is discriminated against. By the way, both Corel and Novell are now supporting ODF also.

And bottom line: Microsoft can simply and easily solve the problem by just agreeing to support ODF itself, just as they recently agreed to support PDF. That simple solution would solve all the issues folks are complaining about on Microsoft's behalf. According to Dan Farber, who just interviewed Microsoft's Ray Ozzie, Microsoft probably will support ODF and is working with a French company now to see what it would take. Farber writes:

Ozzie attributed the tentativeness on ODF support in Office to resource allocation issues, mainly based on the user support demands that would crop up given that exporting to ODF won't have full fidelity with the Microsoft's own formats without some tweaking. Microsoft is working with a French company on translators to determine the scope of the problem in exporting Office documents to ODF. It sounds to me that support for "Save As" ODF in Office is a "when," not and "if." Ozzie also mentioned that Microsoft Office has long supported HTML as a document format, which should fit with the criteria set by Massachusetts in its Enterprise Technical Reference Model.

If this proves true, then there is no need for confrontational hearings and FUD puffery. The issue is solvable. And it is Microsoft who can solve it.

2nd Update:

BetaNews has an interesting tidbit:

Romney, a Republican, is expected to announce whether he will run for a second term next month; he is rumored to be considering leaving the position to prepare for a 2008 presidential campaign. And Galvin has been named as a potential candidate for the Democratic seat, which means the two may soon become political rivals.

"On one hand, Secretary Galvin is perhaps the most important person to weigh in on this debate. The Massachusetts Web site describes the Secretary as the Commonwealth's 'principal public information officer,'" noted Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox. "But before debating Microsoft versus OpenDocument formats, I would consider political factors."

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