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11/4/2005
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Battle Over Massachusetts Anti-Microsoft Software Policy Widens

The Massachusetts Senate is considering legislation that could trump a month-old policy that required government agencies to adopt open-document formats. The policy would block adoption of Microsoft Office. Meanwhile, Sun and IBM are rallying support for open-document formats.

Established only last month, a Massachusetts state policy on software formats is gaining opponents and supporters as the matter continues to be debated, placing its future implementation in doubt.

The open-format policy is controversial because the proposed format could lock out some Microsoft software.

The Massachusetts senate is considering legislation that could eventually trump action on formats. At the same time, IBM and Sun Microsystems are rounding up supporters of open formats for a proposed foundation to support the OpenDocument standard set by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Standards (OASIS).

"It's a moveable feast," said Michael Wendy, spokesman for COMPtia, which along with Microsoft, opposes the state policy. "There's a lot of interest from all over and it's growing."

The state policy, scheduled to take effect in 2007, calls for Massachusetts government documents to use the OpenDocument standard. Microsoft opposes the policy, maintaining that it unfairly excludes Microsoft's Office software. Supporters counter that Microsoft can comply with the OpenDocument standard if it chooses to.

The chief proponent of the standard, Eric Kriss, who headed the state's administrative offices, has left his state post, leaving the standard without its champion. Governor Mitt Romney (R), who is widely believed to be preparing to run for the U.S. Presidency, has not spoken out on the policy to date.

Supporters of the OpenDocument standard were scheduled to meet Friday at IBM facilities in Armonk, New York. In addition to IBM and Sun, Red Hat, and Novell were among the firms planning to attend, according to published reports.

Proposed legislation making the rounds at the Statehouse in Boston calls for the establishment of an "information technology expert task force," whose majority members would be appointed by the state's governor. The body would make recommendations in areas including software standards, formats and the content of Web pages.

Proponents of the OpenDocument format (OFD) maintain that the open-source approach would stimulate competition and bring prices down. Microsoft takes an opposing stance. "ODF is fine, but not as a government policy," said COMPtia's Wendy, "because it locks out an important segment of the market."

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