Mass. confusion: ODF vs. OpenXML (and hicks vs. yuppies)

It's Tuesday's IT Blogwatch: in which the state of Massachusetts thinks it likes Office 2007 after all. Not to mention why not to mess with two yuppies in a BMW...

Eric Lai has the scoop:

Massachusetts today released draft specifications that would allow state workers to continue using Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format. The latest proposal comes about two years after state IT officials kicked off a raging political battle by unveiling  specifications that would have required state workers to use applications that support only "open" technologies like the OpenDocument format (ODF).


According to pages 18-22 of the proposed Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Model 4.0, OOXML, along with ODF, plain text and HTML formats, meets the IT division's criteria for an open document format. Other formats that are not considered open but could be used by Massachusetts state employees include Adobe Corp.'s Portable Document Format and Rich Text Format.


Microsoft has played hardball by lobbying hard in Massachusetts and other states, and to the federal government. On the other side, ODF supporter IBM has also lobbied governments. [read more]

Cade Metz has more:

Massachusetts is back on the Microsoft bandwagon ... The state first announced its switch to open standards in the fall of 2005, under then CIO Peter Quinn. At the time Microsoft's Office 2003 suite did not support ODF, and the company had yet to release Office 2007, which would mark the debut of OOXML. Clearly, the state was pushing for the introduction of Microsoft alternatives, such as the open source and Sun Microsystems' for-pay version, StarOffice.

Unprecedented among state governments, the move caused quite a stir, as Microsoft lobbied the state legislature to change policy. Little more than four months later Quinn resigned his post: his successor, Louis Gutierrez, stayed in the job less than a year. Now, under interim CIO Bethann Pepoli, the state has reversed its stance. [read more]

Payton Byrd gives a big cheer:

I've been following this story for a couple of years now and I'm very glad that this is happening. I don't mind states wanting to use standard technology (as if having 90% of a market doesn't make your technology a standard), but Microsoft was obviously being singled out in the early days of Massachusetts' "open standards" declarations.

The big loser here is IBM, who had been attempting to scuttle standardization of Open Office XML in attempts to land contracts with government agencies that were following Massachusetts' lead. Now, IBM will actually have to compete with Microsoft on features and price instead of receiving a government mandated monopoly for office applications. [read more]

But Andy Updegrove's cheer is of the Bronx variety:

The OOXML-related changes to the text of the ETRM are deceptively insignificant. By my word search, there are only three references ... But the potential impact of these changes if retained will be great.

How much pressure has the Massachusetts ITD been under to accept Ecma 376? I've been told by those in the know that the contacts reached all the way to Deval Patrick, our new governor. Here, as in the states where legislation was introduced, the point was forcefully and repeatedly made that Microsoft is the kind of company that can provide jobs and other economic support where and as it pleases. And, to be fair, the same points were been made in the past by representatives of IBM and Sun when they have spoke out in favor of ODF.


Now we are looking at a very short comment period, commenced with no advance warning, spanning a holiday, and contained within one of the busiest vacation months of the year (one can't help wondering why). [read more]

Pamela Jones is more forthcoming:

Folks are writing headlines like Massachusetts Kowtows to Microsoft. But it is worse than that. From my reading, they've lowered the bar for choosing what standards to use, rather than requiring Microsoft to rise to the open formats/open standards level the state originally set


According to Massachusetts' own criteria ... OpenXML ... stumbles on the very first rung ... it has to be able to say yes to this question: Is the standard fully documented and publicly available? Fully documented? Open XML? Sir, you jest. If it were, Microsoft wouldn't need to make Novell and Xandros and Linspire sign NDAs and then write translators for them, now, would they? Translators that Steve Ballmer already told us won't work perfectly.


OpenXML doesn't belong on any list of usable standards until it is one, a real one, where the playing field is even ... it's like traveling to a new town and asking for a map, but the directions are written in such a way that only longtime dwellers can read and follow them. You as a newcomer have no way to understand them and hence find your way around.


No wonder Louis Gutierrez quit. [read more]

But Mary Jo is confused:

I’ve been no fan of Microsoft’s methods for drumming up support for its standardization effort around Open XML. But I don’t see how the existence of multiple standards portends the end of open standards … even if a company that has abused its monopoly power is one of the players. Doesn’t “open standards” mean they should be open to the inclusion of technologies from anyone, even Microsoft?

Microsoft, like IBM, Sun and every other open-source and closed-source tech vendor needs to have its technologies designated as “open standards” in order to qualify for many requests for proposals, especially from government customers. [read more]

So Andy Oram has a timely analogy for her:

As the U.S. Independence Day approaches, we can honor the shot heard around the world when the IT department of the state of Massachusetts declared a couple years ago they would adopt the Open Document Format.


Dueling standards are nothing new, but it’s not in the public interest for a lightweight, publicly developed standard with multiple alternative implementations to be driven out by a monster of a specification (6,000 pages) that has legal encumbrances and other complexities that mean it can be implemented by only one vendor.

It’s frustrating to see that the state standards committee either does not understand its own principles or is cynically ignoring them. The Information Domain section of its draft describes one of the benefits of XML as: Long-term reuse of data, with no lock-in to proprietary tools or undocumented formats. But that’s true only if the particular XML implementation is unencumbered and disconnected from proprietary formats. OOXML fails these tests, and therefore violates the principle stated in the standard.

The standards process has clearly been turned against standards. [read more]

Buffer overflow:

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And finally... Mailgeek found this curious video (warning: adult language)

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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