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To read comments to this article, go here
Boston Globe Throws Mud at Peter Quinn -- Mud Lands on Boston Globe
Saturday, November 26 2005 @ 05:41 PM EST

The Boston Globe should be ashamed of itself. Honestly, this story is so disgustingly guttery, it's hard for me to even write about it. A little character assassination in an attempt to discredit OpenDocument Format. Here's the ridiculous and squalid "investigative" reporting by the Boston Globe, "Romney administration reviewing trips made by technology chief." They are investigating and wonder if Peter Quinn, CIO for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is a perfect form filler-outer.

No. Really. Page one of Boston.com, just as if there were a real story here.

Here's the opening of the article:

The Romney administration has launched a review of several out-of-state trips that its top technology officer took to conferences sponsored in part by companies who stand to benefit from a change in computer software used by the state.

Peter J. Quinn, director of the state's Informational Technology Division and its chief information officer, has traveled to 12 out-of-state conferences in the last two years, visiting Brazil, Ottawa, San Francisco, Japan, Puerto Rico, and other locations, records show. Most of the conferences were sponsored by technology and information companies.

Let's see. If one doesn't want to use Microsoft's formats, because one thinks they are not open enough for one's legitimate needs as a government agency, what happens to one? Microsoft's goons and allies will comb through your life looking for dirt, or something that looks a little like dirt, to ruin your reputation? And so the Boston Globe decided to investigate how completely Peter Quinn dotted his I's and crossed his T's on his expense account:

Quinn filed travel authorization forms with Kriss for six trips he took in 2004. He provided the name of the conferences he was attending, but only the total amount of money that the trip cost on three of them: $1,151 paid for by the World Software and Technology Convention in Japan, $543 he spent to attend the Center for Digital Government conference in Tucson, and $221.70 he spent to speak at a conference in Chicago. On the form seeking approval to travel to Puerto Rico for five days in May 2004, to speak at an "Open Source Congress," he did not list how much the trip was expected to cost and only that the expenses were paid for by the company, Altamente, which is based in Puerto Rico.

There's plenty more just like that in the article. He got verbal authorization instead of written sometimes? Give the Globe the Pulitzer, by all means. $221.70 is at stake. There's no breakdown on how all that money was spent, and heaven only knows, there is no way a human might figure that between air fare round trip between Boston and Chicago and a hotel room and some meals, we'd reach the princely sum of $221.70, without anything left over for Peter Quinn to abscond with. All Quinn did was list the conference, who paid for it and the total amount? What a scandal! Call the cops! He paid for two of the trips out of his own pocket, by the way, which might explain an "incomplete record".

He apparently didn't also separately list for some trips each and every sponsor of the conference he spoke at. However, it's not clear if the law actually requires that (Quinn did list the conference organizers), or if the "investigators" just don't understand how conferences of this sort are arranged. Sponsors are like advertisers. That's all. If the Boston Globe sponsored an event, for example, would Quinn have to list all of the Boston Globe's advertisers as having "paid for" his trip? Quinn's then-boss Eric Kriss demonstrates to me just how mean-spirited, slanted and unfair this article is by pointing out, as quoted in Andy Oram's article, "Another desperate attempt to discredit Massachusetts OpenDocument adoption", on O'Reilly:

"Most of Quinn's trips occurred after Massachusetts made the decision to adopt OpenDocument. There is no possibility that the trips would influence the decision that had already been made."

The Globe says Kriss had no comment. "Kriss, who left state government in September, did not return phone messages left at his home yesterday and Wednesday." It's Thanksgiving, folks. He's not home. Duh. Like this story couldn't wait until Monday, so Mr. Quinn's reputation wouldn't be left in shreds by its incompleteness. It just happened that Oram was able to reach Kriss after the story broke. Any implication that the sponsors of the conferences wined and dined Quinn to get a favorable decision or that Kriss was avoiding making a statement is poppycock.

If I might point out something obvious that no one seems to be mentioning, it's this:

ODF is not a product or a software application.
No software company owns it.
It's a technical format any company can choose to use.

OpenOffice.org, one software suite that supports ODF, is not purchased. It's free. Just download it over the Internet. No contract. No services. No fee. So, what software company will rake in the loot if ODF is chosen and later the state chooses OpenOffice.org? None. There isn't any company. Does any single software company stand to benefit from ODF adoption? Or is the field entirely open? Seriously, folks. This is silly, at best. This is fud from folks who don't get the tech. So they have fallen in their own mud.

Proprietary companies can support ODF too, and then their products are in the running for government orders, just like anyone else's. So no company sponsored an event, arranged to invite Quinn to come and speak, to push their product on him. ODF is not a product. It's a format any company in the world is free to use, including Microsoft. Massachusetts' decision to use ODF doesn't tell us whose applications it will someday buy. That is entirely open. That makes this entire "investigation" incredibly off-target.

Oram explains something else that is very pertinent:

Now someone in state government is claiming Quinn should have listed all the companies that sponsored the conferences, to allay fears that these companies were trying to gain underhanded influence. By this standard, a speaker who gets free admission to a conference such as LinuxWorld Expo or O'Reilly's Open Source conference would have to list that his trip was paid for by Intel, Sun, Dell, and any other of the one or two dozen companies listed as sponsors--even Microsoft!...

Attending a conference, however, does not necessarily mean one comes in contact with a company representative. Usually, to actually interact with that company, an attendee has to take the deliberate step of arranging a meeting; otherwise he's unlikely even to get a demo at a booth. A speaker at a conference is likely to come in, deliver a speech, and leave without ever seeing a company representative.

And so a man's good name is dragged through the mud. Here's Andy Updegrove's reaction:

I'm not suggesting, of course, that conflict of interest rules are not serious and necessary - they are both. However, Quinn is being faulted for not disclosing the identity of those who sponsored his trips, and the nature of any business dealings the ITD might have them. And speakers are invited, and their fees are paid, by conference organizers, and not individual sponsors, a distinction that the Globe fails to make:
Even though a galaxy of computer companies are listed as sponsors of many of the conferences, Quinn did not list any of them on his authorization forms or the business relationships any of them have with the Commonwealth.
One wonders whether anyone would have been better off if Quinn had stapled a page of logos to an authorization form and added "We buy some or all of our products from these companies." The article also notes that Quinn told them that he frequently took night flights to lessen time away from the job - hardly the way to take a junket.

The big question, of course, is whether the Globe thought to look into Quinn's travel vouchers on its own, or whether it was suggested to them that they just might want to start asking questions on such an unlikely topic.

That's a good question. As long as Governor Romney is investigating, could they also investigate whether this story was suggested to The Boston Globe by Microsoft, its PR firm, or any politicians locally that have received contributions from Microsoft?

Microsoft can support ODF. It just doesn't want to. And why not? Might it be because they like being a monopoly and wish to keep everyone tightly stuck in their monopoly grip? Here's my opinion: Microsoft has too much money, too many lobbyists, too much power, and not enough ethics. There. I've said it. God knows what they'll do to me to retaliate, but it's still true. No matter what they say or do, it's true. And while this story reflects badly on the Boston Globe, it also taints Microsoft, and that's true whether or not they directly made this character assassination happen.

ODF is a good format. It does what Massachusetts needs to do. It does things that Microsoft's competing format wouldn't, which is likely why after the decision to go with ODF was announced, Microsoft changed the license on their XML format to make it more open. That action alone ought to tell you that there was, indeed, something wrong with their license before, and Massachusetts was tech-savvy and license-aware enough to realize it. That is why they chose ODF, because it was more open. End of story.

Here's my question to the Boston Globe. If, after the investigation of Mr. Quinn's I-dotting is concluded, you find that Mr. Quinn is exonerated, will you put that story on page one too?

Attacking those that made the decision to go with ODF in what appears to be a cynical and scurrilous effort to destroy a man's good name is dirty pool.

No. It's worse than that. It's a sin and a shame.

And so it happens that The Boston Globe threw some mud on Peter Quinn, and it landed on The Boston Globe. And, in my view, on Microsoft.

Updated: I can't resist. One anonymous reader sees a silver lining here, leaving this comment about the Boston Globe article: "Well, one good thing might come out of this -- they might write all their stories in Microsoft .doc format and so they will be lost to history in ten years or so."

: )


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