About once a year, some blogoblatherer peddles the “big lie” that earlier this decade all State of Massachusetts government information-technology (IT) groups were major supporters of Sun's (JAVA) Open Document Format. So once a year, being Massachusetts born and bred, I feel the need to knock down the Massachusetts/Open Document Format (ODF) 'big lie" by providing links to the relevant public records.
This year the offending blogger is Paula Rooney of ZDnet (see her paragraph about "brave Massachusetts technology execs") but if not her, it would be someone else before long. It is unfortunate that she did not check her own web site before writing about the "brave… execs." In addition to the relevant official state documentation on the subject in the links below, there was some pretty good contemporaneous reporting of the back-room dealings between Sun and a few state IT employees right on ZDnet. One of the more telling sentences about what appears to me to be a Sun-ODF effort to manipulate Massachusetts was this information from David Berlind of ZDnet in October 2005:
"Although it isn't clear what Massachusetts' test for openness was back in the early 2005 timeframe, it is clear that "the test" was officially revised... by the time (Massachusetts' Enterprise Technical Reference Model) ETRM was ratified on Sept. 23..."
Why (and how) the test was revised was answered in 2006 but the open standards blogoblatherers conveniently leave out that fact. The information about a flawed process developed by Berlind was confirmed in a Massachusetts legislative report, which said that that particular version of the ETRM (3.5) was put together by a "kitchen cabinet," which not only failed to give outsiders such as Microsoft (MSFT) a reasonable chance to comment on or react to its plans but also froze out all other relevant Massachusetts IT groups, including the ones involved with aiding the disabled and those in charge of public records.
The legislative report lays out how this small group—actually one department in one part of one branch of the Massachusetts government—took numerous underhanded (even by very generous Massachusetts state government standards) to try to wire the procurement process for Sun. The “brave… execs” issued--possibly illegally according to the legislators--ETRM 3.5 saying that Massachusetts government would only use documents produced in the following four "standard" formats: HTML, Sun ODF, Adobe (ADBE) PDF and TXT. Note that there were four “standard formats” listed, not just ODF. "Standard" is in quotes because PDF was no more a "standard" at the time than Microsoft’s Office formats but clearly the "brave... execs" had to make their "open" version of the ETRM look somewhat open.
The effort was part of a multiple-year process that began in 2002 with a study by a state-sponsored group called the IT Commission, apparently orchestrated by the same "brave... execs." The IT Commission was “facilitated” by IBM (IBM) consulting employees under contract and included a Sun employee but no Microsoft employee. IBM uses ODF in one of its less popular Lotus products or at least did so at the time. Microsoft was a major supplier of technology to Massachusetts at the time (and still is I believe) and should have been represented on the commission or all vendors should have been barred.
The legislative committee concluded that Rooney's "brave... execs" were:
“… not aware of the cost of the ETRM, the impact it could have on the state’s public records, limitations on IT accessibility for persons with disabilities, that the agency excluded key governmental and advocacy groups, and that the proposal was issued in violation of state law.”
The above is the summary. The details run on for 30-40 pages. The finding of disregard by ITD and the IBM-Sun group for the disabled bordered on immoral, a much more serious charge than illegal here in Massachusetts.
Today as in 2005 the issue of document format standards is, as it should be, a miniscule part of Massachusetts’s ETRM (now in its fifth version). New IT management in state government gave Microsoft a chance to make the list and gave Sun a chance to make ODF handicapped accessible. Massachusetts considers HTML, ODF, OOXML, PDF, RTF and Text to be acceptable document formats. The issue of accessibility for the disabled is now a key part of the IT procurement process.
Common sense triumphed over the attempted Sun-ODF coup in Massachusetts earlier this decade. Unfortunately other Massachusetts politicians went on to try to extort money out of Cognos.
-- Dennis Byron