Massachusetts Senator Hails Compromise On Open-Source Effort

proprietary software suppliers like Microsoft have a clearer path to compete.

"It's now clear that all participants in the software industry will be able to participate in bidding for state contracts," said Senator Marc Pacheco in an interview. "I think we're going to get what we wanted--all vendors can bid on open standards."

Pacheco felt an "Open Standards, Open Source" policy formulated in 2003 by the state's Office of Administration and Finance (AOF) could have locked out suppliers using proprietary software from companies like Microsoft. A new policy--described as an "extension" of the previous policy--has been discussed by AOF's chief, Secretary Eric Kriss. A fuller amplification of the policy is scheduled for release next month.

The earlier emphasis on "open-source" software has been downgraded in the latest parsing of the policy, and new emphasis is being given to "Open Formats," which Kriss described at a recent meeting of the Massachusetts Software Council as: "specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, and affirmed by a standards body; or, de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms."

As examples of open formats, Kriss cited TXT, RTF, HTM, PDF, and XML. Kriss indicated the AOF has been discussing the use of open formats relating to XML and .DOC files with Microsoft for several months.

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In e-mails in Internet discussion sites, Kriss has said the open-format policy is an "EXTENSION of the open-standards policy that still remains in effect." Mention of "open source" is no longer prominently featured in his description of the policy.

Pacheco, a Democrat, is chairman of the Post Audit and Oversight Committee. When the AOF's policy was first announced, it set off alarms among suppliers of proprietary software, who were concerned they would be excluded from state IT contracts. Kriss, a Republican who reports directly to Governor Mitt Romney, was invited to testify on the issue before Pacheco's committee, but he declined to appear. The hearings were attended by the state's Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn and the open-source versus proprietary software issue got an airing.

Pacheco said he still hasn't been able to discuss the issue with Kriss, but he is "pleased" about the direction the state's IT procurement is moving in, as he understands it. Kriss did not respond to phone calls and emails made to his office.

Kriss is a former software entrepreneur, who has had programming experience.

In his original memo on the state's "Open Standards, Open Source" policy, he stated: "We will follow two possible development paths: 1) new applications must follow Open Standards, Open Source, while 2) existing applications will be evaluated for 'encapsulation' or migration to Open Standards, Open Source."

At any rate, the latest iteration of the state's policy emphasizes "Open Formats."