June 29, 2006 2:39 PM PDT

Report blasts Mass. OpenDocument policy

BOSTON--A Massachusetts state senator blasted the state's high-profile decision to adopt OpenDocument as a digital document standard, calling it unlawful and insensitive to the needs of people with disabilities.

Marc Pacheco, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, on Tuesday released a report at the Massachusetts State House, the result of a several months-long inquiry.

The report stems from a decision by the state's Information Technology Division (ITD) last September to standardize on the OpenDocument format for executive branch state agencies by January 2007.

The move has been criticized by state politicians, including the state's director of public records. It also has attracted worldwide attention as a landmark decision among governments seeking more control over storage of public information.

Microsoft, the dominant supplier of desktop applications, does not intend to support OpenDocument in Office 2007, the company has said. It has submitted the document formats to Office 2007 to standards bodies Ecma International and the International Standards Organization.

In the report, titled "Open Standards, Closed Government: the ITD's Deliberate Disregard for Public Process," Pacheco contends that the ITD issued a technical architecture without sufficient input from interested parties or a realistic cost-benefit analysis. In addition, he said that the ITD did not have the legal authority to set a standard.

Pacheco also criticized the ITD for not taking into account the needs of people with disabilities when choosing OpenDocument.

"The principles of open standards may offer the benefits of decreased costs and interoperability of documents, but the ITD did not pursue the policy in an open, collaborative or lawful manner," he said at a press conference here in the Massachusetts State House.

Pacheco said he expects the executive branch to address the issues raised, adding that he recommends the January 2007 implementation deadline be postponed unless the needs of people with disabilities can be met.

He indicated that he has had constructive conversations with Thomas Trimarco, the Secretary of Administration and Finance, and Louis Gutierrez, the chief information officer of the ITD, neither of whom were involved in the OpenDocument decision.

In response, the office of Governor Mitt Romney issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that the executive branch would continue with the standards implementation plan.

"Senator Pacheco is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. We are committed to an open-standards approach that fully takes into account all accessibility, cost and statutory requirements," said Felix Browne, an administration spokesman.

At the press conference on Tuesday, a disabilities advocate echoed Pacheco's criticism of the process, saying the concerns of people with disabilities were not sufficiently addressed before the ITD issued its technical architecture document.

"We need the ITD to take a step back and wait until we can verify the accessibility" of OpenDocument-based products, said John Winske, chairman of the Disability Policy Consortium, a Boston-based advocacy group. OpenDocument is currently supported in products from IBM, Novell, Sun Microsystems and the open-source OpenOffice suites.

Microsoft Office has built-in help for people with disabilities, such as voice synthesizers, special screen readers and enlargers, Winske said. But he said OpenDocument-based products do not yet.

Pacheco's findings echo his comments made at a public hearing last November, when he said the ITD acted "unilaterally" and without the proper authority. In addition, he said that the IT Division's then-CIO Peter Quinn and general counsel Linda Hamel did not do a sufficient cost analysis.

On Tuesday, Pacheco said that the process running up to the ITD's decision last fall was closed and dictated by Quinn and former Secretary of Administration and Finance Eric Kriss.

"The process, quite frankly, was driven by one individual in a very powerful position (Kriss) issuing a memo to an individual in a less powerful position (Quinn). Then he was told to get it done and forget about any obstacles," Pacheco said.

Although OpenDocument is not yet widely used, other government entities, including Belgium, have expressed interest in OpenDocument as a standard as well.

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14 comments

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Sour Grapes?
I'm speculating that this guy is just pissed off because he expected
MS would win. He enthusiastically endorsed the process last year
(<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.techweb.com/wire/software/showArticle.jhtml?" target="_newWindow">http://www.techweb.com/wire/software/showArticle.jhtml?</a>
articleID=57702867).
Posted by qprize (237 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Accesibility
Seeing as you can open an OpenDocument document on a
Windows system I would hope those built-in screen-readers,
text-to-speech and enlargement options would work just as
well.

The good senator also seems to have forgotten the needs of
disabled users of systems that do not support Microsoft Office.

Well, if we're going to start speaking on behalf of people that
haven't raised any complaint themselves, I might as well invent a
special interest group.

(For what it's worth, I don't believe these guys are in the pay of
Microsoft or some such conspiracy - they just hate the fact that
some techie has suggested change for reasons they can't
understand - 'If it's not broken, don't try and fix it'. As with IE,
the majority cannot see anything IS broken).
Posted by JulesLt (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Run the good Senator through google
Search on his name, and the words Microsoft donations

You'll see that he gets money from Microsoft lobbyists.
Posted by camper9 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Moronic statement
That was kind of a moronic statement to make. Take the tin-foil hat off for a second and realize that some people do actually think for themeselves. If Quinn and Kriss did violate the procedure for getting this standard adopted, what do you propose they do? Let it slide?
Posted by rjdohnert (16 comments )
Link Flag
By "people with disability", you mean Microsoft?
another mASSachusetts politican at it again.
Posted by kamwmail-cnet1 (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
another mASSachusetts politican at it again
Do you really mean, "Microsoft lobbyist money at it again?"

Or maybe, "Another Microsft-purchased politician at it again"?
Posted by camper9 (2 comments )
Link Flag
By "people with disability", you mean Microsoft?
Mass. politicians at it again.
Posted by kamwmail-cnet1 (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
formats don't determine accesibility, it's the programs.
Perhaps the good Senator should be encouraging programmers to create more disabled friendly programs using the Open Document format. After all, since the format is open, anyone can make a program for it, even Microsoft.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Reply Link Flag
text to speach is a function of the OS anyhow
text to speach is generally a function of the OS anyhow. Sure, PDF Reader 7 and Office2007 have it built in but you generally it's an app that services all other programs as needed. It's nothing to do with the file format or shortlist of early adopters.

If process was cercomvented then that issue needs to be adressed but another polition who's toe got stepped on cause he didn't win his argument; bite me.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Formats do determine accessibility
The main villain is PDF, a format which does not store text as continuous strings but rather, as small fragments (individual letters in some cases!), each tagged with its position on the page.

A continuous string of text can be read in natural order by screen reading software.

Though text fragments with position tags *appear* to humans to be in order when represented visually, it is quite difficult to recreate the ordered, *machine-readable* representation. Acrobat's search feature won't find words that are split across lines, for example. From Acrobat's (and the underlying format's) perspective, the end of one line is in no way related to the beginning of the next.

OpenDocument and the Microsoft Office formats are not subject to this particular accessibility problem, but they have accessibility problems of their own.

Interestingly, HTML prepared in accordance with the WCAG guidelines is one of the most accessible formats. See, in particular, the way the HTML standard and the WCAG guidelines address the linking of table cells to row and column headers.

So yes, format does affect accessibility.
Posted by rpms (96 comments )
Link Flag
READ,,
it says "Microsoft Office has built-in help for people with disabilities, such as voice synthesizers, special screen readers and enlargers, Winske said. But he said OpenDocument-based products do not yet. "
i.e. the product that do support opendocument don't support these features. MS has no incentive to support a format which was created by its competitors and distributed free with a primary goal to kill the office market since they cant really compete head on.
Posted by FutureGuy (742 comments )
Link Flag
This just in...
The public blasts the senate for being closed, unlawful and insensitive to people.
Posted by herkamur (115 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Read the auditor's report yourself...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/st02/st02612.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/st02/st02612.htm</a>

It is thorough and correct.
Posted by rpms (96 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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