07:10 PM

Massachusetts Wins Microsoft Battle; War To Continue

As Massachusetts picks the OpenDocument format over Microsoft's OpenOffice XML, other government bodies are likely to follow.

With Microsoft’s OpenOffice XML the loser to OpenDocument in Massachusetts, the war of desktop formats is likely to spread to other governmental bodies, says one participant in the deliberations who sees the decision as a tipping point.

“In many ways it becomes circular,” said Doug Heintzman of IBM in an interview Friday. “It emboldens other entities. We are on the cusp of a big change.” Heintzman, director of technical strategy for IBM’s Software Group, participated in many of the sessions on the policy before Massachusetts’ Information Technology Division (ITD) published the final version of the format on Wednesday.

The IDT’s chief information officer, Peter Quinn, said the state’s IT operations will move towards adopting an enterprise approach to its new model, which it calls the Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM). “We are working collaboratively to breakdown the present agency-centric approach and implement a comprehensive enterprise-wide plan to consolidate and modernize the current landscape,” he said in a note on the state Web site Friday.

In the meantime, advocates of the Microsoft OpenOffice position aren’t throwing in the towel. State Senator Marc R. Pacheco, chairman of the Committee on Post Audit & Oversight, has protested the final version of the ETRM and plans to hold a public hearing on the issue shortly. Pacheco has complained for months that the OpenDocument approach can be too costly. He has asked the IDT to extend the public comment period until further evaluation can be carried out.

Another critic of the IDT policy is Melanie Wyne, executive director of the Initiative for Software Choice, a computer industry coalition. In an interview she complained that the new policy would effectively cut out some vendors from state IT work. “The new standard covers only open source,” she said.

The policy, first set forth in 2003, has taken many twists and turns. Initially, as it began to be formulated, it appeared to favor open source and open standards software. Then in June, the policy evolved to a point where Microsoft embraced it.

The latest iteration, however, came as a sudden shock to Microsoft, which has been vehemently protesting it. “Both open source and proprietary were covered in the older policy,” Wyne said. “The change came as a surprise to us.”

Many academics and firms representing a wide cross section of computing have participated in the formulation of the IDT policy including Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Red Hat.

IBM’s Heintzman said the IDT policy will encourage innovation, because it will be a true standard that can’t be arbitrarily tinkered with or changed. He said that Microsoft owns some key XML patents and there were fears the software company would use them to bolster a proprietary position.

OpenDocument was developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), a standards body whose board members come from major computer companies including Microsoft and IBM.

The Massachusetts policy was pushed by Secretary Eric Kriss, head of the state’s Executive Office for Administration & Finance. Kriss, a former software entrepreneur who has programming experience, has announced that he is leaving the post and Microsoft has seized on his planned exit

In a statement issued shortly after Massachusetts appeared to reverse its policy, Microsoft said: “The CIO’s office publicly supported Microsoft’s open and royalty free licensing approach with regard to its Office XML formats by agreeing to include these formats within the Commonwealth’s policy. Now, with the imminent departure of Secretary Kriss at hand, the Commonwealth is proposing a policy that is at odds with its previous affirmation of Microsoft’s approach. Such a sudden reversal by the CIO’s office is questionable in its timing, process, motivation, and commitment.”

Designed to further interoperability among various state units, the ETRM policy is scheduled to begin to be implemented by Jan. 1, 2007.

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