Delay Sought In Mass. Office Software Implementation

The battle over the introduction of the Open Document Format (ODF) office software to the exclusion of Microsoft Office software in Massachusetts state government appears far from over as a state senator urged Thursday that the scheduled implementation of ODF be delayed. At the same time Thursday, Microsoft issued another delay in the release of its Office 2007 software.

State Senator Marc Pacheco, a longtime critic of the state's decision to adopt ODF issued a 31-page report condemning the decision by the state's Information Technology Division (ITD) to move to ODF. Billions of software dollars hang in the balance of the closely watched measure, which could be a precedent and its provisions adopted beyond Massachusetts.

The Pacheco report was immediately hailed by trade association CompTIA. "Senator Pacheco's report confirms what we have known all along -- that the process at ITD was badly flawed," said Michael Wendy, CompTIA spokesman, in an e-mail.

Pacheco rehashed his litany of complaints about the ITD action in general and focuses on ODF's weak provisions to address the needs of disabled workers using the software in particular. The report states:

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"ITD should delay the ETRM (Enterprise Technical Reference Model) implementation date of January 1, 2007 unless the agency can demonstrate that the open standards requirement meets the needs of the disability community. A statewide government policy that is not compliant with assistance technology will contribute to the significant problem of unemployment and underemployment for persons with disabilities."

Andrew Updegrove, a partner at Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove, countered that converter and plug-in software has been developed to assist disabled persons to use the ODF software. Updegrove, editor of and an ODF supporter, said it would be a simple matter to gradually phase in ODF software for handicapped persons as the software is improved.

"The Pacheco report is strictly informational," he said. "It has no ability to improve any legal change."

Behind the scenes, Microsoft has been battling to combat the shift to ODF while its competitors IBM and Sun Microsystems have supported ODF. Although an arcane debate of standards and specifications, the issue has attracted the involvement of a variety of trade associations, standards bodies, companies, politicians, and state governments.

Even though it has delayed its Office 2007 software again, Microsoft has made an Office software submission of more than 1100 pages to the ECMA international standards body in Europe. When the expected approval is granted by the ECMA, supporters of the Microsoft software are expected to use it to promote Microsoft's position in the Massachusetts government.

The Pacheco report criticized former state officials -- Administration and Finance Secretary Eric Kriss and ITD chief Peter Quinn -- for adopting the ODF standard. Kriss responded by criticizing the report, according to press reports.