"Government is trusted with reserving for its citizens the integrity of their public records," you said in your Sept. 19 editorial ("States Open Document Dispute Raises Legacy Questions").
However, government is also required to exercise fiscal responsibility with the money provided to it by its citizens.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts proposal to mandate that all documents be in open document formats will require the spending of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Known costs will include acquisition of new technologies (even open-source technology comes at a price), training the commonwealths thousands of employees and the back-file conversion of millions of documents.
And then there are the unknown costs. How do we quantify the certain loss of productivity as the commonwealths workers adopt new technologies? What will the impact be on its citizens?
The commonwealths mandate reeks of ideology, especially in light of Microsofts own intentions to support a royalty-free XML format in the upcoming Office 12 release. I am not pro-Microsoft; I am a citizen of the commonwealth who wants to see its agencies be more productive, not less, and exercise fiscal responsibility.
I applaud your stand supporting the Massachusetts plan to mandate an open document policy for its records (Editorial, "Documents for Tomorrow" or "States Open Document Dispute Raises Legacy Questions," Sept. 19).
Your commentary, however, muddies the water around the choice by bringing into the discussion a separate but related issue thats been called "data shepherding."
Data shepherding, as defined in an article I saw, is the process of moving stored data from older technology to newer technology to keep it intact. Clearly, there is an associated technology issue—namely, what are you going to use to interpret that data? Your editorial raises the question, "... in 100 years, will a version of Microsoft Word exist that will read a Word document created in the year 2005?"
Part of the data shepherding process is to ensure that the data format is converted, if necessary, to a newer format that is supported by current software. Almost everyone is ignoring that part of the process. If that Word document was a documented, published format, someone 100 years from now could write a format-conversion program to translate it to something modern.
Retired data center manager for AT&T Labs and Xerox