November 1, 2005 6:56 AM PST

Mass. officials criticize OpenDocument decision

BOSTON--Massachusetts state officials have criticized a decision to adopt OpenDocument as a standard, casting doubt over a closely watched initiative.

Marc Pacheco, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, on Monday held a hearing to probe into the process that led to a mandate to make OpenDocument the standard document format for all commonwealth agencies in the executive branch as of 2007.

Pacheco
Marc Pacheco,
state senator,
Massachusetts

The policy, finalized in September, was developed by the Information Technology Division, which is part of Massachusetts' Office of Administration and Finance.

The IT Division said OpenDocument-based products will improve interoperability between systems and ensure long-term archiving of official documents. The specification is developed at standards group OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).

There are commercial products that support or will support OpenDocument, including Sun Microsystems StarOffice, IBM's Workplace and the open-source product OpenOffice.

But the IT Division's policy effectively shuts out Microsoft Office because the dominant supplier of productivity software does not support OpenDocument at this point.

During the hearing, Pacheco voiced a number of concerns regarding the IT Division's decision. He called into question the IT Division's authority in setting policy, saying the IT Division acted "unilaterally," and he expressed concern over the cost of walking away from Microsoft Office. He also contended that OpenDocument does not sufficiently address the needs of people with disabilities.

During questioning, the IT Division's chief information officer, Peter Quinn, and General Counsel Linda Hamel defended the decision, arguing that the move to OpenDocument would be in the commonwealth's best interest. Quinn said a standard, "open" format, rather than Microsoft's "proprietary XML" format, will ensure that electronic documents can be read hundreds of years from now.

Pacheco then called on Alan Cote, the state's supervisor of public records, as a witness. Secretary of State William Galvin has responsibility for public records.

Cote sharply criticized the IT Department's decision, urging that

CONTINUED: Of turf wars and stalemate…
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