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I'm Back, More MA Shenanigans, and a Request for Help
Thursday, November 03 2005 @ 09:44 AM EST

If you wondered where I was yesterday, I went to an intellectual property conference, so I could listen and learn. The travel was considerable, in terms of time used up, which is another reason I rarely go to such things. But I'm back on my horsie now and I see a lot has been happening.

For example, lots of shenanigans in Massachusetts, where it seems you are not allowed to want to use OpenDocument Format in government. If you try, you will be punished. It's very childish, but in a dark and ugly, Mafia kind of way. Here's Andy Updegrove's account:

I just received a call telling me about a significant event relating to the Massachusetts ODF saga. After a month of news largely dominated by pro-ODF announcements, such as the release of ODF-compliant office suites, patent non-assertion pledges and the like, the opposition has just lowered the boom. And if they are successful, it's a big one.

According to what I've just learned, an amendment to a piece of important Massachusetts legislation (an economic stimulus bill) was passed out of the Senate Ways & Means committee this afternoon. If it is adopted, it could at minimum drastically delay the effectiveness date of the ODF policy, and at worst, could roll back the Information and Technology Division's (ITD) action entirely.

I can't confirm at this time the identity of the amendment's proponents, but I am told that the amendment will be debated in the State Senate on Thursday, so those who are behind the amendment will become visible at that point. The gist of the amendment would be to create a new four-person "task force" that would have the power to approve or block a wide variety of IT policy decisions in the Commonwealth -- and many provisions of the amendment map specifically to the ODF situation. . . .

So there you have it -- an amendment that's precisely targeted at achieving all of the ends that were outlined in the October 31 hearing: take the power to set standards away from the ITD, and hand it to a new uber group, as well as giving the supervisor of public records a veto as well.

But the amendment also takes another step that is rather Machiavellian. Recall that the original sin of the ITD was, in the view of the ITD's Statehouse opponents, to have failed to consult with the other branches of the government. One of the parts that I ellipsed out solves that problem by making the only safe way that the ITD can ensure success in a standards decision is to involve the task force early in the process, by giving the CIO the right to "request" the recommendation of the task force. That section reads in part as follows (once again I've added emphasis where appropriate):

"The chief information officer of the information technology division may request the task force to provide recommendations or analysis on specific matters. The task force recommendations shall address, but not be limited to, the following matters: (1) procurement policies by commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities concerning computer hardware and software, (2) format and content of web pages maintained by commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities; and (3) software standards governing commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities. In offering recommendations, the task force's analysis shall include, but not be limited to, the following considerations:(3) the extent to which the proposed policy or practice results in user-friendly applications for commonwealth employees, business entities, and members of the public;"

It might not be a stretch to say that this part of the amendment is intended not only to change the IT power structure, but to humiliate the ITD at the same time, by making it ask first what it can recommend before it makes a recommendation itself.

So, now we know why no one was invited to speak at the hearing unless they were opposed. Folks, I just want to say one thing about all this. No one in the Free Software/OpenSource world will ever muscle you like this to use their software. Use it if you like it, and use something else if you prefer. It's a different world view, and if I may say so, it's why so many folks are switching to GNU/Linux systems. Freedom to choose is an American foundational ethic. And no normal person wants to do business on Mafia-like terms. So think it over. If you choose Microsoft, it seems to be like joining a gang. You aren't ever allowed to leave. So it's a lifetime commitment, even if, like the IT folks in Massachusetts, you find something that works better for your purposes and costs you less.

I have been asked by journalists for information on the Massachusetts story. I need a volunteer, because of being so backed up from the conference. Could someone please collect all the articles on Groklaw and all the links within them that talk about standards, Open Document Format, and Massachusetts on a permanent page, so journalists can find what they need? I would appreciate your help. If you have time to tackle the job, please leave a comment saying so, so we don't duplicate effort. If you want to work as a group, that is fine too, of course. But arrange it please so I don't get hurt emails from people upset that they did work for nothing. You can look at the Contracts page or the Patent News Page or any static page for general outline, but the idea is to categorize topically, and also chronologically, two lists. If you have a better idea than that, feel free to come forward. The end result should make it easy for journalists, and legislators, to find information in one place.

And then, when you send it to me, please tell me if you wish your name used for credit on the permanent page or your handle, and if someone can volunteer to be responsible for that page, to keep it up to date with new articles that come along, that would be fine. Thank you, if you can. I need someone to help similarly with updating the Microsoft Litigation page. I am really swamped, and need assistants now on those two pages.

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