Pepoli And Robertson: Open Standards Mean Options


"Our philosophy towards open source has not changed since we started implementing solutions with open-source software," Bethann Pepoli says. "It's all about best value for the Commonwealth."

Pepoli has filled the shoes of more than one Massachusetts CIO that departed under a cloud of controversy. She first took on the role of interim CIO with the departure of Peter Quinn, who resigned after some brutal criticism and legislative opposition for his attempts to drive state ODF adoption. And she became deputy CIO when Louis Gutierrez was named to the permanent position, only to again find herself back at the helm when he left in October 2006.

Despite executive changes, the draft of Massachusetts' latest Enterprise Technical Reference Model pledges comparable support for open standards as with past versions. In addition, Massachusetts formed a separate Open Source Development Group, charged with the development, implementation and support of open-source solutions. The group also plays a major role in the introduction of shared services and implementation of a service-oriented architecture.

But while the philosophy may not have changed, the strategy certainly has. First under Quinn, then Gutierrez, Massachusetts' open-source advocates became embroiled in a battle of words with Microsoft, which is rare between industry and government.

Now, efforts to support the OOXML format, developed by Microsoft, hint at a change of combatants to allies.

"Open XML does meet our established criteria for an open standard," Pepoli says. "There is industry support for Open XML, and we believe that by adopting the standard we will be able to accelerate the pace of migration to XML document formats."

The reason for that, in part, is enhancements to the technology that only partially had to do with Microsoft. In fact, attach ownership of OOXML to Microsoft, and Tom Robertson will argue otherwise. For about a year, a cross-industry collaborative effort through the Ecma International industry association has worked together to make the Open XML formats as useful and interoperable as possible, Robertson says, and that can't happen if they're proprietary. Among those supporting the effort are representatives from Apple, Intel, NextPage, Novell, Toshiba and the United States Library of Congress.

"Microsoft initially developed Office Open XML, but these file formats are now controlled by the standards community," he says. "The Ecma committee has made significant changes to the Open XML specification and [ensured] developers could work easily with the formats, whether they wanted to take advantage of just a few specific features, or the full technology set."

Also, a translator project is gradually building a technical bridge between the Open XML format and ODF standards. While certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a natural part of translating between the two formats, Robertson says, developing the translation tools through an open-source project means the technical decisions and trade-offs necessary will be transparent. The translators will be made available on the open-source development Web site www.sourceforge.net.

For Massachusetts, both open standards and open-source software are central to meeting agencies' needs. The Commonwealth implemented OpenOffice, RedHat Enterprise Linux, Apache Tomcat, FireFox and MySQL.

Open standards and open-source applications act as complementary tools, Pepoli says.

"We work with many different vendors in the arena," she says. "I believe we've remained a leader in this area because the commitment to 'open source' is an organizational commitment, not one on behalf of any individual or group of individuals."