Mass. IT Chief, Supporter Of Controversial Open Software Format, Quits - InformationWeek

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Mass. IT Chief, Supporter Of Controversial Open Software Format, Quits

The Massachusetts state IT chief who shepherded the OpenDocument format through a series of battles has resigned, leaving ODF without a champion, but with plenty of critics in the state government.

The Massachusetts state IT chief who shepherded the OpenDocument format (ODF) through a series of battles before it was chosen as the state's official document format, has resigned, leaving ODF without a champion, but with plenty of critics in the state government.

In an e-mail sent Christmas Eve to his Information Technology Division (ITD) staff, Peter Quinn, ITD director, wrote: "I have become a lightning rod with regard to any IT initiative. Even the smallest initiatives are being mitigated or stopped by some of the most unlikely and often uninformed parties."

ODF office software, which has its strongest corporate sponsors in IBM and Sun Microsystems, was pushed through against the protests of Microsoft, which complained that its format approach was being unfairly excluded by the state. Quinn had powerful support for his stance in the person of Eric Kriss, who was the state's secretary of Administration and Finance. But Kriss resigned a few months ago and was replaced by Tom Trimarco, who has already indicated he is favorably disposed to Microsoft's approach.

Andy Updegrove, an attorney representing the OASIS standards organization favoring ODF, reported in his blog Tuesday that Kriss and Quinn had met Dec. 21 to discuss Quinn's future. "The personal attacks, and especially the unfounded (and quickly disproven) charges publicized by the Boston Globe, played a major part of (Quinn's) decision," Updegrove wrote.

The Globe had asked the administration of Governor Mitt Romney to investigate Quinn. The investigation raised questions about the propriety of expenses and trips Quinn made to computer trade shows. Quinn was exonerated when Kriss stepped forward and said he had approved Quinn's trips, but the investigation and the news coverage took a toll on Quinn, according to Updegrove.

At the same time, Governor Romney, who is expected to be a Republican candidate for the Presidency, was being criticized by Democratic politicians over the proprietary of his own out-of-state trips.

As things stand now, Massachusetts is scheduled to adopt the ODF standard in 2007. However, powerful politicians, including the governor's administration and Democratic Secretary of State William Galvin and other Democratic legislators are receptive to Microsoft's approach.

But Microsoft is unlikely to be able to make a definitive submission until its latest office software formats proposal wends its way through the European ECMA standards body, which could compete with the ODF approach by OASIS. The Microsoft submission, made earlier this month, has more than 1900 pages so a quick resolution isn't expected.

Some observers have suggested that the two standards--OASIS ODF--and the coming ECMA Microsoft Office Open XML-- be converged at some point in the future.

Although the debate concerns much arcane detail, there are billions of dollars at stake every year of office software.

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