August 24, 2006 7:22 AM PDT

Mass. to use Microsoft Office in ODF plan

Massachusetts will begin using OpenDocument as the default document format later this year as planned, but it will be sticking with Microsoft Office in the near term, the state's top technology executive said.

As expected, Louis Gutierrez, chief information officer of Massachusetts' Information Technology Division, on Wednesday sent a letter seen by CNET News.com to advocates of people with disabilities. The letter was in response to their concerns about the commonwealth's plan to move to the OpenDocument format, or ODF, standard.

In addition, Gutierrez last week wrote to the state's Information Technology Advisory Board with an update on the OpenDocument format implementation plan, as had been planned.

Last year, Massachusetts caught international attention for its decision to standardize by January 2007 on ODF, a document format standard not supported in Microsoft Office.

Disability unfriendly?
The move was criticized by disability-rights groups, which complained that going to ODF-compliant products, such as the open-source OpenOffice suite, would not adequately address their needs. In general, Microsoft Office has better assistive technologies, such as screen enlargers.

Louis Gutierrez Louis Gutierrez

Earlier this year, Massachusetts' IT division said it would adjust the dates of the OpenDocument adoption if the state could not find adequate accessibility products.

In his letter to disability-rights groups, Gutierrez said emerging Microsoft Office plug-ins will enable Massachusetts to stick to its standardization policy while meeting accessibility needs. Plug-ins act as converters, enabling people to open and save documents in the OpenDocument format from Microsoft Office.

"This approach to ODF implementation will fulfill our legal and moral obligations to the community of people with disabilities, acknowledges the practical requirements of implementation and enables the Executive Department to continue to pursue the benefits of using open standards for information technology," Gutierrez wrote.

The state had considered adopting other office suites, such as OpenOffice and StarOffice, but Gutierrez decided against those because they would not support accessibility requirements by the January 2007 target date.

State executive branch agencies will take a phased approach to using a plug-in. Gutierrez did not indicate which plug-in the state intends to use but that he expects them to be fully functional by 2007.

"Early adopter" agencies, including the Massachusetts Office on Disability, will use a selected plug-in starting in December of this year. The IT division will then move all executive branch agencies in phases to the OpenDocument standard by June of next year.

Gutierrez added that the state will consider OpenDocument format-compliant Microsoft Office alternatives as they become more mature.

Not "anti"-vendor
In his letter to the state's Information Technology Advisory Board, Gutierrez referred to the economic and political factors that have weighed on the state's planned move to ODF.

His predecessor, former CIO Peter Quinn, and other ITD officials were faulted by a state senate oversight committee for, among other things, not providing an adequate cost-benefit analysis. Meanwhile, Microsoft executives argued that the OpenDocument format favored the open-source business model over Microsoft's closed-source model.

Gutierrez told Massachusetts officials that keeping Microsoft Office on state desktops enables the state to "thread the needle" by adhering to a document standard created and supported by multiple software providers without being opposed to, "anti," any one vendor.

Because Microsoft Office and the forthcoming Office 2007 do not support OpenDocument natively, many expected the state to move to a different productivity suite.

Keeping Office, however, makes the ODF implementation more economical and less disruptive to end users, Gutierrez wrote to state officials. Microsoft started its own OpenDocument format plug-in effort earlier this year by sponsoring an open-source project.

"Technology that did not exist at the time of the policy formulation--namely various plug-in or translator components that can be added to Microsoft Office to allow it to read/write to OpenDocument format (ODF)--is at the heart of our near-term approach," Gutierrez said.

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"Plug-ins" acting as converters!
In this article Gutierrez said "in his letter to disabilities groups, emerging Microsoft Office plug-ins will enable Massachusetts to stick to its standardization policy while meeting accessibility needs. Plug-ins act as converters, enabling people to open and save documents in the OpenDocument format from Microsoft Office."; Now, here is another angle to the question of the use of converters from another OEM's perspective:

"As a point of reference here is an extract from a 1998 Lotus Development Corporation communication; Re: Concerning the issues with 1-2-3 that are talked about in the documentation you gave me, most of the issues are related to converting files between older and newer versions of product and converting documents between Lotus and Microsoft. Anytime a file is saved backwards or saved with an older file format than the format the file was created under, such as saving a 1-2-3 , 97 file for Windows 95 into a WK1 format for DOS, then naturally we are expected to loose certain features due to technology and features that are present now that were not present 8 - 10 years ago. Similarly, if we try to convert a file from Lotus into Excel or Excel into Lotus, due to differences in the products not every feature will be converted perfectly with the file filters that are available. Both Lotus and Microsoft create similar spreadsheet programs; however, there are several differences in both programs and these differences will remain to distinguish the products apart. We do try to design conversion filters that will allow as much of the file formats as possible to be exchanged and converted without disrupting the actual file design and format.

In one of your letters you made mention of the @IRR and @ERR functions in the 1-2-3 product. By design the @IRR (notably "absent" in Open Office) will calculate the Internal Rate of Return; where the @ERR is used in conjunction with other formulas, posted was an "ERR" showing an error was received in the calculations. As far as I can see in the program I cannot find an @ERR function that will allow us to calculate an Economic Rate of Return"... note carefully what was stated in the latter; "there are several differences in both programs and these differences will remain to distinguish the products apart", so, just where do the other OEM's products factor in, in this
Massachusetts OpenDocument equation! :-\
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Many years ago a programmer friend of mine beamed @ embedding...
He was thrilled with something called OLE, he described to me as pasting a piece of dynamically updated content from one application's file into another application's, such as a constantly updated spreadsheet into a word processing document. Now I can imagine that this may be possible with the OpenDocument format. but what if the imbedded document asks the resident spreadsheet program to perform a function it doesn't understand, such as @IRR? For this reason I think OLE may not be implemented on OpenDocument. At the best, embedded OLE frames would become a non-dynamic image encoded with a single compression scheme. In other words, no hypertext capabilities either. I too expect disappointment in the loss of features when converting to OpenDocument, and suppose that the converted document will not be as manipulable as when it was first created. Maybe the only good side is that the printed output will be more consistent than Word documents. WYSIWUG died when inkjet printers decided that their 'dot resolutions' should determine an artificial magnification of the 'finished' product.
Posted by ````` (32 comments )
Link Flag
They folded!
This should scare the hell out of anyone that administers IT. If Microsoft can bring such pressure that a state government can't choose another suite, what the hell chance do we have of ever having true choice when it comes to the software we MUST run.

If Microsoft isn't a monopoly, we should retire the term.
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ODF is patented by Sun
ODF is patented by Sun.
PDF is patented by Adobe.

The really big con is changing the meaning of "open" to "not Microsoft".
Posted by NotParker (19 comments )
Link Flag
What really scares me
What really scares me was that the State's IT people wasted everyone's time and money on such a stupid idea as moving to that format.
Posted by (402 comments )
Link Flag
Not really
They didn't so much bring "such pressure" as they brought "such product".

As in, when they develop software, they take disabled folks into account. "Competing" software makes no such allowances, to it's discredit.
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
Not really
They didn't so much bring "such pressure" as they brought "such product".

As in, when they develop software, they take disabled folks into account. "Competing" software makes no such allowances, to it's discredit.
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
It's the 'accessibility' they prefer in MS products
And organizations like the ACLU that will frighten every government agency to be sure no person recieves discrimination from any government by its software. Gov't choice to upgrade software will no longer be driven by uniform file format compatibilities but by accessibility features. Ask not what your document can do for your consumer but what your word-processor can do for your user. Sadly spell check have replaced education (turning misspelled words into improper phrases), and grammar checkers could force poor clarity in an attempt to "get that squiggly red line from under my sentences!"
Posted by ````` (32 comments )
Link Flag
"what the hell chance do we have...
... of ever having true choice when it comes to the software we MUST run"; do not loose hope guy - IBM is about to release the mother of all instant messaging applications - IBM Lotus Sametime ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www-142.ibm.com/software/sw-lotus/products/product3.nsf/wdocs/st75home" target="_newWindow">http://www-142.ibm.com/software/sw-lotus/products/product3.nsf/wdocs/st75home</a> ) as a platform that must be scaring the hell out of Redmond; and, if you think they are scrabmling to their defense stations now - wait till "HANNOVER" (with OpenDocument integration) launches. The abondon ship "order" might be given to a crew whose fellow crew mates may have jumped ship long before this "order" comes; and, they all will be running on LINUX also!

;-)
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What do IBM, Lotus, and Hannover have in common?
They all had big pushes...
Yes, at nearly 1GB, the Lotus Sametime trial is a motherload, unless you're using a Microsoft OS, which reduces the download by 90%. The alternate demo video is in Microsoft .PPT Powerpoint format. Openoffice 2.0 had a lot o' trouble playing IBM's link, so Linux can't be satisfying anyone. Oh, and the primary demo is SWF format. Good luck getting sound to work on Flash 9.x with any Linuxes. I suspect that any crew jumping ship will discover they're firmly beached on land called Redmond. BTW, Sametime requires a server class operating system installed, and if you've ever spent gigabucks and waited two days installing Microsoft Server 2003 on ONE PC, you'll agree that US Governments much rather expend that effort making YOUR life less productive.
Posted by ````` (32 comments )
Link Flag
Tax Dollars at Work
So, they keep using and paying for MS Office. We can assume, zero reduction in IT expenses. Then they implement a plug-in to support a non-MS file fomat. So we can assume more complexity, and additional support costs.

Another brilliant government decision... nevermind choosing a product that works, when you can mash together two seperate pieces of technology, increase the overall cost, and maintain your ideological fascination with "open-anything." Talk about throwing a bone to the open-source community at the taxpayer's expense! sheesh.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
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Should be clear sailing
From what I have read, the plug-in works transparently. When you click on save, an ODF file is written. When you click Open, an ODF file is read. There is no "conversion" step. I have also heard that the plug-in developed by the Open Document foundation will be available free of charge (they are a 501c non-profit corporation).

So...no additional complexity, no additional costs and you can read and write all files in any ODF compliant software.

You can use MS Word, I can use Star Office Writer or OpenOffice Writer and we can exchange and edit files that we can share, read and print. There will never be a charge to use or develop software that uses ODF formats and there will never be a time when you must upgrade your software because the new file format is incompatible with the old programs.

This is a win for users everywhere.
Posted by Arbalest05 (83 comments )
Link Flag
They did...
...choose a product that works. Did you read the article? The "competing" product was developed by folks that didn't seem to take disabled folks into account. They assumed everyone has excellent eyesight and can use a mouse just fine.

Oops.
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
For me I choose to move forward.
Using Open standards means that next time I request 'freedom of information' from the Mass. gov't, they won't send me a document in MS Word 2033 format that I can't open with my $100 OLPC laptop. Now if the Air Force would just stop ,liberating' info on 4mm cassettes compressed into .ARK libraries I would be completely happy.
Posted by ````` (32 comments )
Link Flag
Basically, the stupid idea is dead
Give it a few years and people will start failing to install the plugins, and the open document nonsense will be forgotten about.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No, the IT guys will not forget to install the Plugins...
It will be an easy part of their job. Civil servants will exchange OpenDocument attachments and annoy one another, as they merrily did to me by attaching Word documents into emails rather than typing directly into cc:Mail. Everyone in 1997 was aware that cc:Mail in-house would be replaced by MS Exchange, and the server conversion could likely mangle the precious time capsule of their email folders during a mishap of a conversion process. As for me, I was more preoccupied that my hand-me-down PC issued to me was going to give up. Interestingly enough, niether occurred. A blessed crew!
Posted by ````` (32 comments )
Link Flag
 

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