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Mass. to adopt near-term plug-in strategy for ODF

It's postponing a Jan. 1 deadline to roll out open-source software to fulfill OpenDocument policy

By Carol Sliwa
August 18, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - During a meeting today with state officials and advocates for people with disabilities, Louis Gutierrez, CIO of Massachusetts' IT Division (ITD), said the state will postpone a Jan. 1 deadline to roll out open-source office applications that can save files in the Open Document Format (ODF). Instead, the state will on a near-term basis adopt a plug-in strategy to fulfill its policy calling for executive-branch agencies to make use of ODF.

The ITD also signed a commitment with the Massachusetts Office on Disability and the state's Department of Health and Human Service to design, procure, certify and develop training for software that is accessible to people with disabilities, according to a document obtained by Computerworld. The memorandum of understanding also calls for ITD to establish a unit devoted to accessible technology.

ITD in May launched an accessibility lab and has plans to expand that initiative, a source familiar with the work said.

"I couldn't imagine a better victory. It's fantastic news," said John Winske, chairman of the Boston-based Disability Policy Consortium. "Today went beyond what we had hoped for. Now, instead of what could have been a very disastrous policy and very bad news for employees with disabilities, we're going to have a strong advocate on our side."

Reached Friday, Gutierrez declined to comment until the state issues its official midyear statement on its ODF policy. That statement is expected to be made next week.

Gutierrez found himself in a bind in February when he assumed the CIO's position in Massachusetts. The state's ODF policy called for executive-branch agencies by Jan. 1, 2007, to use office applications that are conformant with ODF and to configure those applications to save documents in ODF by default. But the only office applications that could do that -- such as the open-source OpenOffice and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice -- are not fully supported by the major screen readers and magnifiers that people with disabilities use.

That sparked an outcry from various organizations representing that community.

The emergence of plug-ins that can be used to save documents in ODF prompted Gutierrez to issue a request for information on the technology. Now ITD will be following through with testing of the ODF plug-ins in preparation for a phased rollout, expected to begin later this year, according to sources at yesterday's meeting.

Winske said that Gutierrez told the group there would be no mass migration to open-source Office applications until they are proven to be accessible. But Gutierrez reaffirmed ITD's commitment to its ODF policy, in keeping with its goal of moving away from proprietary formats for the long-term preservation of documents, according to Winske.


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