On the 16th of this month, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council hosted a meeting at which Eric Kriss, the state’s Secretary for Administration and Finance, and Peter Quinn, the CIO, discussed the state’s recent proposal to standardize on the Open Document Format. I received a set of meeting notes, which I reproduce almost as-is (spell-checked, removed personal names and editorializing). They represent one attendee’s informal capture of the proceedings and have no official standing. But there is some eye-opening stuff here. [Update: via David Berlind, there’s online audio of the meeting.] [Update: Aha! Bob Sutor reports that the Massachusetts decision is now final. This is just the beginning of a long, long, road, and you know what? Microsoft is too smart not to go down it; the only question is when they start. See also Sam Ruby on Brays, Fairness and Doublespeak.]
Presented unformatted to emphasize once again that these are just one attendee’s impressions:
SUMMARY: This meeting, which about 45 people attended, was for discussion of a recent draft proposal by the state of MA about selection of information standards, especially data formats. Most of the controversy stemmed from their selection of Open Document format and omission of MSFT Office 12. The state is seeking public comment before finalizing the draft. Eric Kriss, MA Secy of Administration & Finance, spoke briefly at the outset, emphasizing the need for a sovereign state to provide unencumbered access to all public documents. Dan Bricklin moderated Q&A. The purpose of the meeting was as a way for the Board of the Mass. Technology Leadership Council (the meeting convenor) to gather information on which to base a recommendation to be sent to the state. (end summary) Dan Bricklin moderated. Eric Kriss opening remarks: - This "open format" conversation is about content. Not about procurement, nor about "open source." - Sovereignty. The business that the state conducts lies in the public domain => public documents => electronic forms must not be restricted by proprietary impediments - "Commercialization of XML" made it possible to think of electronic document formats conducive to public business - Public documents--content--must be as open and free and unencumbered as possible. But there are real-world constraints, too. This will be an evolutionary process. No standard is perfect; it will grow and improve over time. - State Web sites should not use proprietary extensions or functions. (Cited recent FEMA example in which IE was required to submit an application for financial assistance after hurricane Katrina.) The policy of MA is to avoid such proprietary features. Accessibility. Quinn commented: We are in a dialog with ISVs and others to find out how to get the best accessibility for MA choices. We will be pro-active, communicate results of our investigation. MSFT: What about other media: voice, images, video? Quinn: We are focused only on documents for now; it's the pressing issue; other media in future. (An audience member pointed out that ODF includes audio, images.) Quinn: The press has wrongly reported that our draft policy is a result of our contentious suit with MSFT. Not true. MA IT uses a lot of MSFT stuff. We have had useful dialogs with them. MSFT: Working with you, we revised Office XML license to meet your needs. Why are we not on your list, yet other things are? MA IT lawyer explained there are degrees of openness. State must draw a line somewhere along the openness axis. In previous draft of the policy, when MSFT Office 12 formats were acceptable, state received a firestorm of negative comment. Q: Shouldn't cost be an issue? There are no ODF tools yet available for citizens. Why do you like PDF? Kriss: ODF tools are available for free download; I use them. We like PDF because it's open enough; it's a matter of degree. Cost is not more important than the principle of openness. Kriss went on to say that the state operates about 50000 desktops. Mostly Win 2000 + Office 11. They estimate that to upgrade to Office 12, which MSFT is offering as the "open format" would cost $50M (including software licenses, upgrading operating systems as needed, newer hardware in some cases, and training). Estimate of cost to install Open Office is $5M (comparable components). He noted that these are VERY CRUDE estimates, e.g., they do not reflect the possibility of better pricing from vendors. Quinn: Proprietary formats have caused MA lots of problems because we've lost the people, applications, and equipment that can deal with them. Quinn: January 2005 document was a DRAFT, not policy. MSFT: What is the definition of "open" and how does the list of what's open evolve? Kriss: (1) No (or minimal) legal restrictions; (2) published and peer reviewed definition; (3) joint stewardship (not just one or two private companies). Bricklin: Is PDF open? Adobe: It's open by this definition. The PDF/A "flavor" is especially open, done by ISO. Other such flavors are being worked on. The only restriction is that if you name the format "PDF" Adobe insists on certain things (to insure interoperability). Kriss: MA would would view MSFT differently if: - MSFT were to drop the patent on format; - Publish the standard; - Establish a participative way to modify Bricklin: MSFT license opening seems to be limited to - public records (read only) - can't do subsets or partial implementation MSFT: This appears to be an assault on the intellectual property of the private sector. Kriss: Sovereignty trumps intellectual property. Companies certainly have the right to own their own intellectual property. We're all for IP in implementations, just not in interchange formats. IBM: (Spoke to various points from the MSFT 15-page letter.) - there will be more and better innovation if it comes from multiple sources/companies - on the complaint that ODF is a young format, open to revision: exactly. It's good and will get better. MSFT has been invited to participate in standards-setting. MSFT: We chose not to participate in OASIS because it didn't seem relevant to Office 12; we were in the midst of a product-development push. But since "reading and interpreting XML is trivial" there's probably someone in the room working on (a converter). IBM (in response to a question about whether states other than MA are having similar discussions): IBM has been in discussions of this sort in the EU and Latin America. IBM makes file format choices pragmatically; no religion. If an MSFT format has the right properties (freely available, widely used, ...) IBM would support it. Sun: Made a general statement in support of the MA proposal, emphasizing that neither proprietary nor open formats were ever going to be perfect, that both would evolve with joint work by industry and customers, and that Sun was delighted to support MA in that process. Q: Aren't you rushing to a decision? Kriss: On the contrary, I think we've been moving slowly. We're not reckless. This is a step in the process.