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:

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 
	- 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 
	- 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 

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 

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 

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 

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.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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September 20, 2005
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