The Politics of Open Documents

Today I had the opportunity to attend a panel at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which was being held in Boston. No, I'm not planning on running for state office. I attended this panel because it was about open document standards, and in particular ODF, the OpenDocument Format that has become a hot button issue in local government in these parts. Also, the panel itself looked intriguing, as it included Marino Marcich of the ODF Alliance, Russ Nelson of the OSI (Open Source Initiative), Representative Marc Veasy of Texas and Senator Marc Pacheco of Massachusetts. Looking at this lineup I was thinking that this would be an interesting debate on just what is truly an open document format and also provide a look behind the scenes on the legislative process involved in a state's decision to support standards. However, what I got out of the panel wasn't much at all. A large portion turned into basically a very simple primer on what is open source and what is the Open Document Format. And from the legislators I got an even more simplified glimpse that basically boiled down to "we have to listen to our constituents" and "things always cost more than people say they will." But the two hours of the panel weren't a complete waste of time. Sitting there I was able to spend some time thinking about the whole dilemma of yet again mixing technology and politics. Once again it's looking like a bad idea. I'm going to take a couple of days to think on the issues from this session and the whole controversy around ODF and states. Check back later this week for a more in-depth take on the whole wisdom of trying to use government to advance a technology. Also, those interested in a good take on the whole Massachusetts/ODF scenario should click here to read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' great piece on Massachusetts surrendering to Microsoft's Open XML. And for a detailed look at a product that helps ODF and Office play well together, click here to read eWEEK Labs' Tiffany Maleshefski's review of an ODF plugin for Office.

ODF PluginToday I had the opportunity to attend a panel at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which was being held in Boston. No, I'm not planning on running for state office.

I attended this panel because it was about open document standards, and in particular ODF, the OpenDocument Format that has become a hot button issue in local government in these parts. Also, the panel itself looked intriguing, as it included Marino Marcich of the ODF Alliance, Russ Nelson of the OSI (Open Source Initiative), Representative Marc Veasy of Texas and Senator Marc Pacheco of Massachusetts. Looking at this lineup I was thinking that this would be an interesting debate on just what is truly an open document format and also provide a look behind the scenes on the legislative process involved in a state's decision to support standards.

However, what I got out of the panel wasn't much at all. A large portion turned into basically a very simple primer on what is open source and what is the Open Document Format. And from the legislators I got an even more simplified glimpse that basically boiled down to "we have to listen to our constituents" and "things always cost more than people say they will."

But the two hours of the panel weren't a complete waste of time. Sitting there I was able to spend some time thinking about the whole dilemma of yet again mixing technology and politics. Once again it's looking like a bad idea.

I'm going to take a couple of days to think on the issues from this session and the whole controversy around ODF and states. Check back later this week for a more in-depth take on the whole wisdom of trying to use government to advance a technology.

Also, those interested in a good take on the whole Massachusetts/ODF scenario should click here to read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' great piece on Massachusetts surrendering to Microsoft's Open XML.

And for a detailed look at a product that helps ODF and Office play well together, click here to read eWEEK Labs' Tiffany Maleshefski's review of an ODF plugin for Office.