October 31, 2005

Commonwealth Senate Meets on Holloween

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight meets today on Beacon Hill to check whether the Information Technology Division's (ITD) process for declaring the OpenDocument file format policy went above board.

Senators Marc Pacheco (Democrat - Taunton) and the Secretary of State William Galvin (Democrat) convene the Committee to ensure that an important vendor to the Commonwealth has been treated fairly and whether or not The Commonwealth is incurring undue costs or creating problems through the OpenDocument policy.

It should be noted that lawmakers everywhere -- particularly lawmakers of the Opposition party (the administration of Governor Mitt Romney is Republican) -- hold it their solemn duty to make sure agencies of their government act appropriately, legally and according to the interests of the citizenry. Massachusetts in this regard is no different from any state or our own Federal government, and individuals who are interested in the OpenDocument conversation may see clearly that this vetting process of the policy decisions of The Commonwealth ITD has the potential to reinforce a decision that has technical, economic as well as political merit.

On the point of the merit of OpenDocument, Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of Standards and Open Source, filed a letter to the Committee on Saturday which covers all the points thoroughly...

- IBM's long and extensive comitment to Accessibility;
- costs of migration to a new standard need to factor the anticipated disruptive costs of change to the incumbent vendor's technology, too;
- the OpenDocument standard is good for procurement and fosters a guaranteed freedom of action and competition that we have not experienced on the desktop since usage of the Internet has gone mainstream;
- additional rousing points along the lines of 'Your data belongs to you!'

Senator Pacheco and Mr Galvin have not been clear about the reasons for their opposition to the OpenDocument policy. It is all the more puzzling that, in general, Democrat representatives and Democrat citizens alike tend to align strongly with the personal empowerment that results from open standards being widely deployed in software. Thus Messers Pacheco & Galvin find themselves on the wrong side of an issue that is deeply entrenched within their own party's ostensible platform. The hearing today will tell and, if merit speaks, it will consolidate the general confidence in the good sense behind ITD's courageous leadership on information policy.


At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Ian Lynch said...

Its becoming increasingly obvious that ignorance is the biggest enemy of justice. Unless there is some sort of corruption involved it is unbelievable that a fair minded Democrat would not see the reasons why the ODF mandate is equitable and does something to restore some long overdue balance.

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Steven Shelton said...

It will be interesting to see how much Microsoft (and Microsoft front organizations and executives) have donated (or will be donating) to the campaigns of these two politicians. As I've noted, I rather suspect this is just a question of a couple of pols doing the bidding of a campaign donor.

At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Richard Flemming said...

It is obvious why these lawmakers, and other people, would be opposed to ODF. The only programs that can interface with them are Open Office and programs based on Open Office - like Star Office - and Linux programs. Not very many people use Open Office or Linux. The file formats that everyone with a computer can use are Microsoft formats.

I for one agree with these forward-thinking Democrats. Even though Open Office is "Free" it's still hard for some people to download and install, whether it's because of dial-up connections, or never having to install a program. Lots of people just use whatever software is on the computer when they buy it.

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Microsoft is influencing these senators as well. When it comes to politicians, money speaks louder than words.

At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Frank Daley said...

re Richard Flemming's earlier comments:

FLEMMING'S STATEMENT: "The only programs that can interface with them are Open Office and programs based on Open Office"

FACT: The statement is false. KDE Office reads and writes ODF and does not use any OpenOffice.org code.

FLEMMING'S IMPLICATION: ODF is for people using Open Office and Linux.

FACT: The implication is false. OpenOffice.org, Star Office, IBM Workplace all run equally well on Linux or Windows.

At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank Daley ... What normal person uses Linux??? Flemming is being realistic - Unlike the pro-open source geeks who likely initiated this plan.

One of the biggest problems with the products derived from Open Source is that no entity is accountable. I don't see how a government organization, or a buisness, would put their faith in a bunch of random people.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Richard Flemming said...

Re Frank Daley's Response

I am sorry if you misunderstood my statement. I am well aware that Open Office runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, BSD, Unix, OS/2, and more. What I said was that it's either Open Office, a program based on Open Office (which would include Star Office and IBM Workplace, as well as many others - NeoOffice/J, etc.), or a program that only runs on Linux, which is KOffice, which you mentioned.

You're choices then are, switch to Linux, or get an Open Office clone. Many are unable to do this, due to learning a new operating system, installing new software, or even knowing such software exists can be prohibitive. Downloading such a large program can also be a factor.

Perhaps Google's involvement with Open Office will (a) shrink the download size or (b) make it web-based, where no download or install is needed. Much like Writely.

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Althogh not from your fair state, I would like to respond...

"One of the biggest problems with the products derived from Open Source is that no entity is accountable. I don't see how a government organization, or a buisness, would put their faith in a bunch of random people."

This is how the United States started. Random people understanding universal openess is better than exclusion.

I don't know anyone who wouldn't give a copy of open office on Compact Disks or a DVD if they used it just a few times, let alone once. Who knows, maybe the Free for All Public Library should be in the business of distibution of communication tools, sort of like books.

At 1:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mr. Flemming and others have missed the point that this is not about which office suite you may used, but the whether or not the format being used to store state and/or public information is an open standard. Although the open standard that is being considered has its roots in Open Office/Star Office and is currently only implemented by those and other programs that admittedly have but a small minority share of the office suite market, the point _is_ that the standard is open and non-binding. I would guess that it would take a company with Microsoft's resources a few weeks to incorporate it into their current office products. They would be able to do that because the format is open. Nothing will prevent anyone from accessing it in the future or from writing an application, be it open source or proprietary for reading and/or writing information in that format.
The whole point is to avoid a situation like that which now exists when the government or the public can no longer access public record because it is stored in a format that is proprietary but no longer supported. This is all to common with the formats used by default by Microsoft or Corel office suites. The .wpd or .doc formatted files from 10+ years ago can no longer be read by any of todays software and since the format is not open and licence free, the information remains lost to the user.
What Massachusetts is trying to do is ensure that the information contained in their documents will remain accessible for generations to come. An open format, not open source software is the right tool for that job.


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