Microsoft Wins, Open Standards Lose

Opinion: CIO Peter Quinn's story tells us that if you go up against Microsoft, you can expect everything and the kitchen sink to be thrown at you.

Some people, bless their hearts, think that what determines which technology is bought and deployed in business and government depends on technical quality. You might call it the "let the best program win" crew.

Some people know better.

Some of us know that technology purchasing has a lot more to do with office politics, old boy networks and friends of friends. Sometimes, those battles get ugly enough that they force out good people. These are frequently people whose only sin was to want to do the right thing of buying the best technology for the best price.

Welcome to the story of Peter Quinn, the soon-to-be former CIO of Massachusetts.

His mistake? He stood up for ODF (OpenDocument Format), an open standard for office documents, and decided that Massachusetts would adopt ODF for use by the Commonwealths executive agencies.

Microsoft, which had been invited to help create ODF, but turned it down, immediately attacked this decision. After all, even were Microsoft to turn around and support ODF, the company might still face serious competition for its gold mine Microsoft Office product line in years.

At first, the attack didnt go much of anywhere.

After all, how can anyone take Alan Yates, Microsofts general manager of Information Worker Strategy, seriously when he says that the adoption of a single format for office documents throughout all state agencies would require deploying a single office application technology?

What was he talking about!?

Microsoft doesnt want Office deployed in every office in the land? Thats not the Microsoft I know.

Besides, ODF is open, Microsoft can use it, Corel can use it, Joe Blow with a C compiler and a lot of time on his hands can use it.

Microsofts efforts didnt amount to much. Worse still, from Microsofts point of view, people were pointing out that products that did support ODF, like 2.0 and StarOffice 8, were worth considering over Microsoft Office.

For the first time in the 21st century, Office had competition.

Microsoft doesnt believe in competition. Microsoft believes in winning. Period.

So, suddenly, a technology decision became a political decision. Secretary of State William Galvin suddenly decided that he had grave concerns about switching to ODF.

State Senator Marc Pacheco scheduled a hearing before the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, after expressing concern about whether the proposal violates state policies surrounding IT procurement.

My word, the very idea of giving people a choice of office suites! We cant have that, can we?

If you were a CIO, and your "colleagues" and erstwhile bosses were saying things like this, youd probably be a little annoyed. But it didnt stop there.

It didnt stop in the halls of government at all.

Next Page: Politics or coincidence?