Open-Source Battle

Massachusetts now hopes to support Microsft's Office Open XML format, in addition to the Open Document Format. Leaders present their views as the discussion heats up.

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In a major about-face, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts released a draft of a new policy that, if approved, would support the use of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) as a document format for government agencies. This is in stark contrast to the Commonwealth's prior decision to embrace only OpenDocument Format (ODF), the open standard developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

But not everyone is happy with the decision. While former Massachusetts CIO—and ODF evangelist—Louis Gutierrez wouldn't comment, leaders on both sides of the issue offered their views in separate interviews with GovernmentVAR. Here is how the battle looks from inside the boxing ring.

In one corner, we have Bethann Pepoli, the Commonwealth's interim CIO, and Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft, who, of course, favor the decision. In the other corner, there's Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, and Peter Gallagher, president of Arlington, Va.-based Development InfoStructure (Devis) and a leader in promoting open-source software products and platform-neutral development, who call for open standards. There's no blurring of the battle lines in this controversy.

Finding Common Ground
Most government decisions have as much to do with politics as they do with IT efficiency. Many believe that's even truer in the case of Massachusetts, which has proved rather fickle in terms of its philosophies around open standards. Did the administration allow itself to be muscled by the 800-pound software gorilla, or did former CIOs allow their allegiance to a developmental philosophy cloud their judgment of what's best for the state? There will always be arguments for both sides.

But regardless of which side of the debate the Commonwealth ultimately decides to lean toward, there needs to be some type of consensus.

"I thought it was a little disingenuous to leverage the argument for open source as a wedge against Microsoft," says Thomas Collins, CIO of the City of Springfield, Mass., and former CIO of Rhode Island.

"To say that it was wrong for the public to have a licensed software product to read public documents is OK, but there are acceptable ways around that," he continues. "Microsoft is a powerful adversary. As one municipal CIO I know said, 'It's notwise for the mouse to tweak the lion's tail.' If [the Office Open XML] format meets the open-source licensing standards and will do the job, I think they have complied with the state's requirements."

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