Microsoft Challenges Massachusetts on Open-Format Plan

Adobe Systems Inc., Corel, IBM and Sun also weigh in on state's plan to move computer networks onto an open-file format by January 2007.

A proposal in Massachusetts to move computer networks onto an open-file format by January 2007 is sparking debate, as companies like Microsoft Corp, Adobe Systems Inc., Corel Corp., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. weigh in on the potential shift.

Although the public has been invited to comment on an initial draft, available on the state governments Information Technology Division site, responses were solicited from the major tech companies.

The letter getting the most attention is from Microsoft, which supplied a 15-page comment that was copied to the states governor, Mitt Romney. Microsoft is objecting to the agencys recommendations that the OpenDocument standard would better able to facilitate agencies to communicate with each other as well as share data.

"We have substantial concerns ... with the definition of open formats in the current proposal," wrote Alan Yates, general manager at Microsoft. This definition, he noted, requires adoption of a single format for office documents throughout all state agencies, requiring deployment of a single office application technology.

"As such, this unprecedented approach not only prevents impacted state agencies of the Commonwealth from using many critical and well-established technologies but also runs afoul of well-established procurement norms without due consideration for the enormous costs and technical challenges that stem from the proposal," Yates wrote.

Microsoft contended that the state is not aware that the company has shipped an open format in the current version of Office 2003, and will focus more strongly on the issue with the next iteration of the application, code-named Office "12."

"We thought it was important to express our concerns," said Yates. "Were looking forward to having the proposal more thoroughly reviewed, and we welcome the opportunity to explain our comments more fully."

/zimages/3/28571.gifDavid Coursey says Massachusetts is fighting a losing battle. Click here to read more.

Other responses to the draft ranged from general support for a switch in 2007 to suggestions for subsequent drafts.

In its letter, Corel encouraged Massachusetts to maintain its "leadership and innovation in the adoption of open standards," and encouraged the state to continue going toward that direction.

Adobe used the opportunity to question some of the statements about PDF standards that were in the document, noting some of the facts were erroneous. Michael Engelhardt, Adobes senior director of public policy, said some other questions remain, but that the company will be speaking with state representatives within the next few weeks.

"Its all a very friendly process," he said. "We just have some questions about what was written, and we want to make sure that whats said about PDFs is correct."

In some ways, the debate around the draft may be just sound and fury, and ultimately signify nothing much being changed, noted Ian Campbell, president and chief executive of Massachusetts-based Nucleus Research.

As a technology researcher, Campbell can understand the states investigation into OpenDocument, since he believes that having public records in an open format is a good decision. However, as a state taxpayer, he cant completely rally behind a switch.

"I wonder if this is an issue where a significant amount of energy should be going," he said. "Its the type of thing that people with nothing better to discuss might talk about. Id put it up there with arguing over what type of salt to put on the roads."

But Campbell did acknowledge that the discussion might be more important than the agency is revealing.

"If this is about a long-term goal to move to Linux, then solving this would be one of foundation pieces for that shift," he noted. "If thats the case, it would be an interesting battle."

/zimages/3/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.