Mass. Secretary Attacks Open Doc Plan

Massachusetts' plan to drop Microsoft Office in favor of open standards formats has drawn criticism from the Commonwealth's Secretary of State, who says he has "grave concerns" about switching to OpenDocument. But politics could be playing a larger role in Secretary William Galvin's opposition.

The proposal, which was finalized last month, calls for all electronic documents created by Executive Department agencies after January 1, 2007 to utilize only formats deemed "open," which include OpenDocument and Adobe's PDF. OpenDocument is the centerpiece in the new OpenOffice.org 2.0 release, but is not supported by Microsoft Office.

If it goes through, government employees will be forced to migrate systems to other productivity suites that could include StarOffice, OpenOffice.org, KOffice and IBM Workplace.

As expected, Microsoft responded harshly to the plan, calling it "inconsistent and discriminatory." The company said it has no intention to add support for the OASIS backed format, but will listen to customer feedback on the issue. However, Microsoft has left the door open by announcing it will implement PDF capabilities in Office 12 next year.

Massachusetts' supervisor of records Alan Cote recently told the Boston Globe that Galvin expressed to state secretary of administration and finance Thomas Trimarco that, "we will not be participating." Trimarco is tasked with working out implementation details of the change, which has the backing of Governor Mitt Romney.

Galvin's office offered no details of the Secretary's displeasure, and a spokesperson for Romney simply said that Galvin's concerns would be taken seriously and given consideration. The situation has created a political tug-of-war as the 2006 gubernatorial election looms in the distance.

Romney, a Republican, is expected to announce whether he will run for a second term next month; he is rumored to be considering leaving the position to prepare for a 2008 presidential campaign. And Galvin has been named as a potential candidate for the Democratic seat, which means the two may soon become political rivals.

"On one hand, Secretary Galvin is perhaps the most important person to weigh in on this debate. The Massachusetts Web site describes the Secretary as the Commonwealth's 'principal public information officer,'" noted Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox. "But before debating Microsoft versus OpenDocument formats, I would consider political factors."

Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco, also a Democrat and up for re-election in 2006, shares Galvin's apprehensiveness, according to the Boston Globe. As chairman of the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, Pacheco requested a detailed cost-analysis of the open standards plan from state CIO Peter Quinn, and says the Legislature should have a say in the decision.

Pacheco expressed his concern that OpenDocument would not be usable by people with disabilities, and his committee is holding a hearing at the State House to discuss the format. However, it's not clear whether Pacheco's moves will have any effect.

At the time of the final proposal's announcement, the Massachusetts IT department said it is "authorized under its enabling legislation...to set standards for electronic documents created by Executive Department agencies."

But that hasn't stopped other companies from joining Microsoft in voicing similar concerns about OpenDocument's state of readiness.

In an interview with BetaNews, Corel product manager Richard Carriere claimed OpenDocument was not yet ready for primetime - despite publicly supporting Massachusetts' efforts. "The reality is that there's no adoption of these standards and, as far as I know, there still needs to be some development to make it into a real product," Carriere said.

Still, Massachusetts CIO Quinn is confident the change is a step in the right direction. "There is no evidence that migrating to office applications that support OpenDocument Format will be any more costly than upgrading current applications," the state's IT department said, noting that any company is free to implement OpenDocument support - including Microsoft.

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