State's Move to Open Formats Still Not a Mass Migration

Only a tiny fraction of the PCs at Massachusetts government agencies are able to use the Open Document Format (ODF) for Office Applications, despite an initial deadline of this month for making sure that all state agencies could handle the file format.

Bethann Pepoli, acting state CIO and director of the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD), said via e-mail last week that only about 250 of the 50,000 PCs at the states agencies have been outfitted with a Sun Microsystems software plug-in enabling them to create, read and save Microsoft Office files in ODF.

Last August, then-CIO Louis Gutierrez sent a letter to advocates for people with disabilities in which he promised that some early-adopter agencies would begin using Office plug-ins with support for ODF by the start of this year. He added that the state planned by this month to migrate its other executive agencies to compliance with the standard in a phased rollout.

Pepoli said that the state is behind its original schedule, but she noted that potential plug-in suppliers werent able to deliver working versions of their software by last November. In his letter, Gutierrez wrote that the rollout plan depended on getting usable plug-ins by that deadline.

According to Pepoli, the ITD did deploy an Office-to-ODF converter for Word text files at some agencies in January. After IT staffers worked through the issues with Sun, the ITD signed a license agreement for the free plug-in early last month, she said.

The IT unit is still installing the plug-in at state agencies. But Pepoli said it now has no schedule for completing the rollout, apart from wanting to get it done as soon as possible.

One thing that might help: The ITD has created a small .msi file for installing the Sun plug-in on Windows systems and can transmit the file to PCs overnight and set it to automatically install itself when they are turned on, Pepoli said.

The states open formats policy was crafted by ITD officials in late 2005, outside of the legislative proc­ess. But Gutierrez announced the plug-in strategy last year so that agencies could continue using Office, after accessibility advocates complained that ODF-based applications dont work as well as Microsofts products do with screen readers and other tools used by theblind. Microsoft itself lobbied heavily against the original policy after itwas announced.

The slower-than-planned rollout of the plug-ins in Massachusetts appears to have influenced the legislators in Texas who recently quashed an open document formats bill.

At a hearing held by the Committee on Government Reform in the Texas House of Representatives, Melanie Wyne, executive director of the Initiative for Software Choice, testified that only a handful of government PCs in Massachusetts had been converted to ODF.

Jonathan Mathers, the committees chief clerk, said that IBMs lobbyists declined to dispute Wynes claims despite having previously given gleaming reports on the ODF rollout in Massachusetts. Thats when I really started to question the whole bill, Mathers said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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