Mass. Senate Panel Criticizes State IT Division's ODF Plans

A Massachusetts state Senate committee late last month released a report criticizing the state's IT division for its "unilateral" plan to force statewide support for the OpenDocument format.

The report, titled "Open Standards, Closed Government: ITD's Deliberate Disregard for Public Process," says that the plan fails to evaluate costs, the effect it could have on state public records and possible limitations on IT accessibility for the disabled. It also claims that the plan ultimately violates state law.

In a statement, Felix Browne, a spokesman for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's office, said that the committee report "is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. We are committed to an open-standards approach that fully takes into account all accessibility, cost and statutory requirements."

Last September, then-state-CIO Peter Quinn finalized a plan to begin migrating by Jan. 1, 2007, to OpenDocument formats for reading and saving reports, spreadsheets and presentations.

Andy Updegrove, an open-source advocate and Boston lawyer, contended that the Senate committee's report only rehashed old criticisms. "Certainly, the ITD made some mistakes, but there were two sides to this story. Unfortunately, only one is reflected," he said.

Melanie Wyne, executive director of the Initiative for Software Choice, a Washington-based advocacy group managed by CompTIA, said the report echoes her organization's point of view. The plan "never defined what was open; they just picked a certain technology," she said. "It's a technology mandate by another name."

The report recommends delaying the switch to OpenDocument until backers show that disabled users can access documents in the OpenDocument format.

Sun Microsystems, a strong backer of OpenDocument, late last month demonstrated to state officials a Sun plug-in that lets Microsoft Office-compatible software, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance Communications Inc., convert OpenDocument files from text to speech, said Douglas Johnson, Sun's corporate standards program manager.

Barbara Lybarger, general counsel for the Massachusetts Office on Disability, confirmed that Sun's plug-in "performed very well" in the demonstration. But she added that the "devil is in the details" and called for such potential solutions to be properly tested with handicapped beta users.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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