Consortium Standards Bulletin- September 2005
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September 2005
Vol IV, No. 9

Massachusetts and OpenDocument:  The Commonwealth Leads the Way

In this issue, we continue our examination of the interplay between public and private sectors, both as standards developers, as standards adopters, and as drivers of innovation and progress. Print this article
At key points in history, governments have provided a vital role in accelerating adoption of crucial standards by the private sector.  One such instance was the standardization of railway gauges in the 19th century.  Today is another, as governments around the world advance the cause of open standards and open source software. Print this article


On September 21, 2005 Massachusetts became the first government in the world to adopt strict rules intended to break its dependency on software applications that create documents that may become inaccessible over time.  We interview all of the major players to present the details on how this radical new policy came about and what it does (and does not) mean. Print this article
In 1630, John Winthrop challenged Puritan colonists in Boston to live as a “city on a hill," accountable to the world as exemplars of virtue.  Now it’s the turn of Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn and his Information Technology Division to fulfill that role. Print this article

Your daughter’s new iPod Nano is insanely cool.  It will also be useless sooner than she thinks, when the technology becomes obsolete -- unlike that 4,000 year old cuneiform tablet in the museum, or the books in the library.  How about your data files? Print this article


The speaker roster is now complete for this free, interactive event to be held in Washington, D.C. on October 5, co-sponsored by Updegrove LLP and held in conjunction with the ANSI Annual Conference.. Print this article

What the Scribes had to say About Massachusetts and OpenDocument; The Lemelson Patents Go Down for the Count; A Federal Court Cites the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Against Computer Game Creators; the Linux Standards Base Releases Version 3.0 and Gathers Support; Africa Embraces Open Source and the Future; Europe Launches Major New Standards Initiatives; Rambus Says "Never Mind" to Samsung; Katrina Underlines Need for eHealth Standards; and, as always, much more. Print this article





This month, I present the second in a three-part series of issues on the interplay of government and the private sector organizations that develop standards and open source software.

In the last issue, we looked to the past, exploring both the discrete as well the overlapping domains in which the public and private sectors have historically been active, and noted the lack of overall coordination and cooperation between these independent but parallel processes.  In the Editorial to that issue, I called for greater collaboration between these too-often disconnected processes (requests to republish that editorial in both public and private sector publications have been granted). 

In this issue, we look to the present.  Governments have often been the developers or early adopters of important new standards, often because their unique needs lead them to place a higher value on certain requirements than does the private sector.   A current example of this phenomenon is the decision by the Information Technology Department of Massachusetts to mandate the use of an important new type of information technology resource - open data formats - by its Executive Agencies.  Massachusetts is the first government in the world to impose this requirement on itself.  The decision of the Commonwealth has the potential to inspire other governments in the United States and throughout the world to follow its example, and provides the focus for all of the articles that we bring to you this month.
My analysis begins in the Editorial, which places the role of government in accelerating the adoption of valuable new capabilities in historical perspective.  In the 19th century, the federal governments of both the U.S. and Great Britain accelerated the proliferation and interconnection of many private railways into infinitely more valuable national networks by imposing railway gauge standards.  Absent such action, the process of seamless integration would have taken far longer.  Similarly, the decisions by multiple governments around the world today to adopt (and sometimes mandate) the use of open source software and open standards can be expected to drive even proprietary vendors to adopt strategies consistent with the new requirements of this enormous market sector.

In the Feature Story, I provide a detailed review of the amendments to the Enterprise Technology Reference Model of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that became effective on September 21, 2005.  These changes will require the saving of all Executive Agency documents in either the OASIS OpenDocument Format or Adobe PDF after January 1, 2007.  My report is based on interviews with representatives of the Commonwealth, OASIS, Microsoft,  Sun Microsystems  and the Association for Competitive Technology, as well as the amendments themselves and a variety of comments submitted by interested parties.

In my Consider This offering for September, I follow the challenges of information preservation further, noting a troubling paradox: while the modern information age has made great strides in augmenting the ease of inputting and saving data, clay tablets, handwritten records, the Gutenburg printing press, and Edison’s wax cylinders still represent superior modes of long term archiving when compared to any modern technology-based solution currently available.

And finally, in my Standards Blog entry for this month, I compare the role of Massachusetts in becoming the first government in the world to require OpenDocument compliance with another challenge, this one taken up by the Puritan colonists that founded the Commonwealth hundreds of years before.

Finally, a note about next month, when I will offer the third and final issue in this series on the interplay between the private and public sectors.  In that issue, I will examine some as-yet unappreciated and vital challenges that we will face in the future, which will demand an unprecedented degree of public and private collaboration in order to do what will need to be done.  Look for that issue -- “Standards for a Small Planet" -- to arrive in October.


As always, I hope you enjoy this issue.

    Best Regards,
  Andrew Updegrove
  Editor and Publisher

2005 ANSI President’s
Award for Journalism



Andrew Updegrove

There once was a time long ago when governments rightfully claimed a monopoly in standard setting. When weights, measures and coinage became necessary tools for society, only the state had the power and the means to set such standards, and to provide the inspection and certification role needed to give credibility to these standards (a service governments still provide today).

But with the Industrial Revolution, private industry began to set standards as well, in order to facilitate manufacturing and reassure potential customers of the safety of new products. Government was quite content to allow industry to set standards for things like screw threads, and even safety-related standards for boilers and elevators when government was not sufficiently motivated to perform that job itself. But government still reserved some areas of regulation to itself, in areas such as food and drug efficacy and purity, workplace safety, broadcast frequencies and various other domains where the exercise of the authority of the state was acknowledged to be necessary and proper.

But just as industry sometimes assumed a standards task when government was disinclined to do so quickly enough to satisfy those seeking to access new commercial opportunities, governments have also intruded into private sector territory when its internal needs or its goals for society differed from those of the private sector (e.g., to set the standard distance between railroad rails in the United States and Great Britain, when the owners of individual railroads were not yet willing to give up the local travel monopolies that different rail gauges protected).

Today we are witnessing another one of those times in history when government is choosing to act in this fashion. This time, it is not rail transport, but the future of information technology that is in play. The specific field of action is software, and the changes that governments are driving arise from their decision to adopt, and in some cases even mandate use of, open source software products and other products based on open standards rather than the proprietary products of individual vendors.

This action on the part of governments arises from two factors: government's special role in society, and its evaluation of its own (sometimes unique) needs as the consumer of products and services.

Both factors come into play with respect to the role of government as the long-term custodian of vast amounts of documents and data, resulting in concerns and demands that are not shared to the same extent by many other types of end-users. Other motivations for governments around the world include a heightened awareness of security, a desire to avoid dependency on foreign-origin goods and services, and national competitiveness, depending on the level of government in question (local, state or national). And, like all other end users, governments have legitimate concerns over costs of acquisition and ownership, abandonment, and control.

Over the last five years there has been increasing integration of open source software into governments of all types around the world through individual procurement decisions on a product-by-product basis by public sector CIOs. As far back as 2000, a two-week long MITRE survey found that the U.S. Department of Defense already employed 115 "FOSS" (free and open source software) products in 251 different settings. This incorporation of open source products was therefore largely a manifestation of government's acting to satisfy their own needs.

But in the last several years, there has been an increasing trend by governments at all levels and in countries spread around the world to mandate the use of open source software products in fulfillment of their understanding of their obligations to the public at large.

Given the vast purchasing power of governments, any continuation of this trend must necessarily have a profound impact on the IT marketplace, rearranging vendor intellectual property, development and licensing strategies.

Of course, these preferences by governments would be infeasible if the requisite open source products, and the equally necessary open standards needed to realize the maximum benefit from such software, did not exist. Happily, myriad parallel efforts have been proceeding at a rapid pace in the private sector, providing the Linux/Apache/MySQL/Perl-PHP-Python (LAMP) server stack, the OASIS OpenDocument office suite format standard (as implemented in the open source OpenOffice suite and other packages), and the FireFox browser, to name only a few.

The result is that we are at one of those points in time, as in the early days of the railways, when governments have the opportunity and the motivation to push society at large across a crucial chasm in decisive fashion. Interestingly, governments today are not mandating what vendors must conform to when selling to private sector customers. Instead, governments (even when they pass rules mandating exclusive or preferred use of open source products) are simply saying what they are willing to buy. Given the massive market power of government IT purchasing, however, any widespread continuation of this trend will be more than sufficient to have a profound and predictable impact on vendor development and licensing decisions.

While government intervention is no more necessary today to preserve the forward momentum of open source software than it was to set railway gauges (which would have been addressed in the private sector eventually), such action will provide a valuable accelerating effect, injecting a note of reality into the marketplace that would otherwise manifest itself more slowly through the interplay of normal market forces. If many states and national governments follow the lead of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for example, and require internal usage of products conforming to the OpenDocument OASIS Standard, Microsoft may well decide how to address backward compatibility issues with its products, if not in the initial release of Office 12, then certainly in an interim release not long after, in order to conform to support the OpenDocument Format.

The end result of government acceleration of open source and open standards based IT products, as with the connection of all parts of a nation by fast railway and highway networks, will be an acceleration of opportunities for commercial vendors and individuals alike, an increase in the favorable network effects of more seamless and facile information communication and transport, and the augmentation of the stability and security of society.

Comments? Email:

Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove



Andrew Updegrove

It should be reasonably obvious for a layperson who reflects on the concept of public records that the government must keep them independent and free forever.

  Massachusetts Secretary of Finance and Administration Erich Kriss
Abstract: For a period of 20 months, the Information Technology Division (ITD) of Massachusetts has been considering certain amendments to its internal information technology policies relating to the use of “open formats” when saving documents created by the Massachusetts Executive Agencies.  The impetus for such a change is to prevent vendor “lock in”, and also to lessen the likelihood that public information will not become inaccessible in the future due to changes in proprietary software, or the discontinuance of support for such software.  On September 21, 2005, the proposed amendments became final, and Massachusetts became the first jurisdiction in the world to mandate the saving of documents using only software that complies with the OpenDocument OASIS Standard or the Adobe PDF format.  This article describes the history of both the process followed by the ITD as well as that of the OpenDocument OASIS Standard, summarizes and assesses the arguments for and against the amendments made by those that offered public comments, and finally seeks to evaluate the potential impact of the Massachusetts decision on further government information technology policy evolution around the world.


Introduction: On August 29th, 2005, a long-watched process in Massachusetts quietly slipped into its final phase. On that date, the Information Technology Division (ITD) of the Commonwealth posted a new version of an information technology policy amendment on its Website, together with a statement that it would become final following a brief, eleven-day comment period. No press release was issued, and the first widely noticed note of the event appeared as a two sentence posting by Richard Waters, a Financial Times correspondent living in San Francisco, to the Financial Times Website. The second sentence described Massachusetts, with its 6,349,097 inhabitants, as "one of the most populous states in the US."

In this humble event some see the first victory of a revolution in government information technology (IT) policy that will spread throughout the world, seeking to liberate end-users from dependence on limiting proprietary solutions and the risk of abandonment, and guaranteeing that long term access to public documents will be assured. Others fear that implementing the new policy will prove to be a disastrous adventure in IT utopianism, resulting from a process that perhaps advanced too quickly.

What happens next in Massachusetts will be watched closely not just in the United States, but around the world as well, where government support for open source software supported by open standards is already much stronger. Still, Massachusetts is the first government in the world to take the step that it did on September 21st, when it adopted the policy amendments referred to above: mandating compliance with a new file format rule that would preclude those subject to the policy from saving any document after January 1, 2007 in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or any format of Microsoft or any other vendor that does not conform to OpenDocument 1.0, a standard newly adopted by OASIS, or as an Adobe PDF file.

How this decision came about, and what the future holds, merits study from a variety of viewpoints: Was the process by which the decision was made appropriate? Were the criteria developed by Massachusetts optimal from a technical and practical view? Was the proper balance between benefits and negative impacts found? And most critically, will Massachusetts be successful in implementing the policy?

The process by which the Commonwealth formulated the latest amendments to its IT policies provides a case study of the manner in which decisions are being made today on the cusp between the old world of proprietary systems, and a potential new open order of information and communications technology procurement. The outcome of the decisions made by Massachusetts will therefore inform the actions of other governments considering similar departures from past policy, and may therefore accelerate, or impede, the making of such decisions.

This article is based on public information available at the links embedded in this article, supplemented by live and email interviews conducted between September 20 and 26 with the following individuals, each of whom was (and is) at the center of the events in question:

  • Michael Brauer, Sun Microsystems and Chair of the OASIS OpenDocument Format for Office Applications Technical Committee
  • Patrick Gannon, President and CEO of OASIS
  • Mary McRae, OASIS Manager of Technical Committee Administration
  • Peter Quinn, CIO of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Morgan Reed, Vice President of Public Affairs, Association for Competitive Technology (ACT)
  • Alan Yates, Microsoft General Manager of Information Worker Business Strategy 
  • Jonathan Zuck, President, Association for Competitive Technology

A near-final draft of this article has been reviewed for by representatives of Microsoft, OASIS and ACT as to the accuracy of the respective statements and the positions attributed to them.  [Disclosure: OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) is a client of the author and his law firm.]

A perennial question: Few definitions defy consensus in our modern technology world as totally as the simple phrase “open standards.”  Despite the insistence of some that one definition should suffice for all purposes, it would be unnecessarily rigid and counterproductive to impose a single definition upon all situations.  For example, those that wish to create open source software for release under any of the licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative could not permit usage of many of the licensing terms that would be required (and considered to be unobjectionable) by the companies involved in creating many types of standards today, or by the standards organizations within which such standards are being developed. 

But definitions of “openness” underlie increasingly important procurement requirements in the public as well as the private sector.  And when substantial IT budgets are involved, the nuances of such definitions inevitably become the subject of protracted and emotional debate. 

Historically, that debate has been energized in part by the tension between what a vendor may gain from adoption of a standard, and what it may be required to give up if it’s intellectual property would be infringed when that standard is implemented by others.  If a steady royalty stream can be earned, such a result is highly desirable to many companies.  In other cases, a patent owner is happy to provide its intellectual property without cost, due to the other benefits that it expects to receive, such as the rapid development of a new and profitable market, or the increased opportunity to sell other products protected by patents.  But if a company enjoys a dominant market share in a given product space, then no amount of royalties would offset the loss occasioned by the broad adoption of a standard that could destroy such a desirable market position.

Recently the degree of energy invested in such debates has risen due to the increasing quality of open source software, the development of which is enabling the acquisition of an ever-wider range of products that are license fee-free (but hardly inexpensive, when all costs of ownership are factored in), providing serious challenges to entrenched vendors and new opportunities to other providers that have waited enviously on the sidelines for many years

Policy context: This year, all of these forces converged when Massachusetts announced the latest changes to the Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) that informs the decisions of the ITD, which in turn controls the procurement decisions for the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth.  The ETRM is a living document, now instantiated in Version 3.5, as most recently updated .

Without question, the most controversial section of the amended ETRM is titled "Information Domain", and contains new rules relating to the forms in which documents may be saved beginning January 1, 2007.  Those rules will permit documents to be archived using software that utilizes one of (at this time) only two formats that are deemed to be sufficiently “open” to increase the likelihood that their contents will be accessible over the long-term: OpenDocument for Office Applications 1.0, a standard developed and maintained by OASIS, and the Portable Document Format (PDF), which is owned, but freely licensed, by Adobe Systems Incorporated.

The decision to credential Adobe PDF as well as OpenDocument is noteworthy, given that Microsoft Office is not on the approved list, notwithstanding recent changes in policy and promises regarding amendment of licensing terms that have been made by the Redmond software developer, and the fact that Microsoft had earlier announced in no uncertain terms that it had no intention of conforming its productivity suite to the requirements of the OpenDocument format, regardless of the eventual policy adopted by Massachusetts

The history of OpenDocument: The format that would eventually become OpenDocument is based upon an office suite that has experienced many years of evolution and actual use.  The original code was developed by a German Company called StarDivision, which began development of the product in 1994.  In August of 1999, Sun Microsystems purchased the code for US $73.5 million for purposes of offering it’s own office suite in competition with Microsoft.  Initially, the suite (now called StarOffice 8.0) was sold as a commercial product, but in 2000 Sun contributed most of the code to the newly organized project, to serve as the basis for an open source office suite.

Part of the vision for from inception was to create an interoperable, vendor independent and standardized file format for office applications. One key to achieving this goal was the development of the XML file format in an application-independent form, meaning that the same format could be used by other vendors as the basis for their own product offerings.

While the process of achieving this goal was begun in, the primary focus of that organization had been to produce and maintain a high-quality office suite.  As a result, a group of interested companies and others proposed the formation of a Technical Committee to standardize the OpenOffice Format within OASIS, a software standards consortium whose rules and process were deemed to be compatible with the creation of a standard based upon an open source application.  While OASIS was a logical home for the project from a process point of view, standardizing a file format for complete office suites was an ambitious undertaking, in contrast to the computer-to-computer, transactional processes upon which OASIS has historically focused.  As a result of this early transition, the majority of the format project was accomplished within OASIS rather than

OASIS chartered what was originally called the OpenOffice XML Format Technical Committee (TC) in December of 2002.  The original members of the TC were nothing if not diverse: Arbortext, Boeing, Corel, CSW Informatics, Drake Certivo, National Archive of Australia, New York State Office of the Attorney General, Society of Biblical Literature, Sony, Stellent and Sun Microsystems.  Later, other organizations joined the committee, including KOffice and IBM, each of which has created its own office suite that supports OpenDocument.  Some, but not all, of the suites that support OpenDocument are based upon open source software developed by, which continues to offer an open source office suite that is committed to compliance with the OpenDocument OASIS Standard.

With the transfer of rights in the file formats to OASIS, the relationship between the code and architecture and what is now called the OpenDocument format was reversed.  Given the diverse composition of the OASIS TC, the needs of end users, archivists and XML experts as well as vendors interested in productizing the format were directly represented in the development process, resulting in a balancing of interests that does not naturally exist within the development process of a single vendor that is strongly motivated by cost and time concerns as well as market considerations. 

The new TC did not simply begin where left off, but instead spent more than a year analyzing the existing format in detail in order to determine what to retain, what to change, and what to add, thereby ensuring that the finally adopted standard would be vendor neutral, application independent, and as interoperable as possible.  More than a year of additional work was required to take the resulting format to a third and final vote by the TC in March of 2005.  The draft standard was also posted for public review during the process, and the many comments received from non-members were reviewed for merit and inclusion by the TC.  The resulting OpenDocument 1.0 was approved by the full membership of OASIS two months later, becoming an OASIS Standard in May of 2005. 

Most recently, OpenDocument 1.0 was submitted by OASIS in September to the Joint Technical Committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a committee formed by the two “Big Is” to create IT standards, and more simply known as ISO/IEC JTC 1.  Since OASIS is an international standard setting organization in its own right, the submission was made using the ISO/IEC JTC 1 “Publicly Available Specification” (PAS) approval process, rather than through a national member body of ISO/IEC JTC 1 (such as ANSI, the American National Standards Institute).  The PAS process was created specifically for such purposes, in order to provide a fast-track approval option for globally adopted specifications that have been created through an open, consensus-based process, but outside of an accredited software development organization (ebXML, another OASIS Standard, was earlier approved via a similar route and become ISO 15000). 

The TC that created OpenDocument will continue to operate indefinitely, and remains open to new voting and observer members.  Currently, it is at work on version 2.0, and its future work plans include both the addition of new features and capabilities, as well as meeting needs of office suite users as they continue to evolve.  According to Patrick Gannon, OASIS expects that the OpenDocument Format, and products that conform to it, “will be of particular interest to state and federal governments, universities, research centers, and other large international enterprises that (like Massachusetts) may have a diversity of users working with different office client applications."

The history of the Massachusetts proposal: Massachusetts, like all other states, has an extremely large and complex IT infrastructure that has grown by accretion over many years.  As noted by Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn, “We’ve got one of everything,” leading to enormous challenges of maintenance and support.  In an effort to better manage this historical legacy and ensure the greatest utility at the minimum cost to taxpayers, the ITD has developed a number of policies and guidelines that are regularly updated as needs and available solutions evolve over time.

      Moving towards "Open Formats:" As a part of this ongoing process, the ITD announced a brief Enterprise Open Standards Policy on January 13, 2004, based upon an earlier draft that had been released for comment the preceding year.  This final version of the policy sought to resolve what some commentators had declared was confusion on the Commonwealth’s part in distinguishing open source software from open standards.  In part, the policy reads as follows:

The Commonwealth must ensure that its investments in information technology result in systems that are sufficiently interoperable to meet the business requirements of its agencies and to effectively serve its constituencies. This policy addresses the importance of open standards compliance for IT investments in the Commonwealth. For the purpose of this policy, open standards is defined as follows:

Open Standards: Specifications for systems that are publicly available and are developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is an example of an open standard. Open standards imply that multiple vendors can compete directly based on the features and performance of their products. It also implies that the existing information technology solution is portable and that it can be removed and replaced with that of another vendor with minimal effort and without major interruption (see current version of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model).

The ETRM, in turn, provides the detailed roadmap for carrying this policy into action, and forms the cornerstone of Massachusetts’ concerted effort to transform its IT infrastructure into a lower cost, more durable, vendor-independent, cohesive platform for its operations

One year later, Kriss made a public statement titled Informal Comments on Open Formats. In these comments, he announced a new commitment to vendor-independent file formats, stating in part as follows:

We are now ready to extend the concept of Open Standards to the next stage in an informal announcement today….We will extend the definition of Open Standards to include what we will be calling Open Formats. Open Standards, as you know, are specifications for systems developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body. An example is XML, a method of exchanging data.  Open Formats are specifications for data file formats based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, and affirmed by a standards body; or de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms. An example is TXT text and PDF document files.   We plan to formally promulgate in February 2005 an additional list of approved Open Formats. …Why do we care about formats? Electronic file formats sit at the core of concern about future access to today's public records. Simply put, the question is whether, when we look back a hundred years from now, we will be able to read the records of what we did today. It should be reasonably obvious for a lay person who reflects on the concept of public records that the government must keep them independent and free forever. It is an overriding imperative of the American democratic system that we cannot have our public documents locked up in some kind of proprietary format, perhaps unreadable in the future, or subject to a proprietary system license that restricts access.

A question of great interest to multiple constituencies thus arose:  what would qualify as an open format for purposes of future Massachusetts IT acquisitions?

In the same informal remarks, Secretary of Administration and Finance Kriss indicated that the OASIS OpenDocument format would be a likely choice.  He also discussed ongoing discussions with Microsoft regarding certain licensing terms that Massachusetts found to be inconsistent with its definition of open standards, stating:

[Microsoft has] made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe, if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about (we will leave it obviously to them to describe exactly what they are going to do), it is our expectation that the next iteration of the Open Format standard will include some Microsoft proprietary formats. These formats, like DOC files, will be deemed to be Open Formats because they will no longer have restrictions on their use.

According to Alan Yates, Microsoft believed that the ITD later confirmed that the Microsoft XML Reference Schemas were acceptable and would be included in the final list of permitted formats.

      Public comments:  During the nine months that followed, a public meeting and many private consultations were held between members of the ITD and representatives of technology companies, industry associations, and open source advocates, among others, culminating with the announcement on August 29th that a final decision would be made on the open format issue following a brief, eleven-day comment period. Notwithstanding the short notice and window of opportunity, some 157 comments were received in letter or email form. Some of the comments received were short (typically either very positive or very negative), while others were extremely detailed.

Five entities (Adobe Systems, Inc., Corel Corporation, IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Hiser + Adelstein ( a consulting firm)) provided comments in support of the proposed amendments that are individually posted at the ITD website. The only negative comments that are separately posted are those of Microsoft.  A single datafile includes all 157 comment submissions, including those that are separately posted.

Of the total of 157 submissions, 97 are best classified as endorsements of the proposed amendments, and 46 submissions are best classified as critical.  The remaining 13 submissions are difficult to classify, since they were offered solely to offer constructive comments, or included both praise and criticism.  Comments came from a great diversity of individuals, including from the Communications Officer of the United Nations (positive), from many states, and from as far a field as Australia, England, Italy, Portugal, and Sweden (all positive).

Of the negative comments, seven are submissions by Massachusetts public officials, and six are brief, identical form letters.  The great majority of the remaining negative submissions were sent by individuals that are blind, or by representatives of organizations concerned with those with disabilities.  All of the submissions by major corporations are positive, with the exception of the comment letter received from Microsoft.

13 of the submissions were sent by various types of organizations: of these, three were sent by organizations concerned with the rights of the blind (all negative), one by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association (negative), and two by public policy associations (negative).  Of the seven letters submitted by technology trade associations, however, five were laudatory (including all of the associations based in Massachusetts) and only two were negative.

A final opportunity to comment and ask questions was provided at a meeting held on September 16 under the auspices of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

On the evening of September 21, the ITD quietly posted the as-amended ETRM at its website, together with a detailed Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page that addressed many of the questions that had been pressed most vigorously by opponents of the draft policy.

Analyzing the results:  Several factors contributed to the energy level, confusion and differences of opinion that have been expressed regarding the wisdom and propriety of the decision by the ITD. First, the Commonwealth is entering into new territory, with a new standard to which additional functionalities will continue to be added. Second, the high stakes for vendors, on the one hand, and the emotion of true believers in open standards and open source, on the other hand, have not been conducive to the most objective and precise expressions of belief. And finally, the rapid end game events bracketed the Labor Day holiday weekend, therefore requiring rapid responses from commentators and the media alike.

As the dust begins to settle, it is important to make an objective assessment of the process followed by Massachusetts, and the prospects for success as it begins to implement its newly adopted plan of action. The following is an attempt to begin that process, first, by addressing one company-unique issue that has been much bandied about in the press, and then by seeking to objectively present the views of both the supporters as well as the critics of the new policy.

      The pursuit of antitrust prosecution by other means?  There has been much speculation that the commitment of Massachusetts to open source and open standards arises in part from the very public legal differences it has had with Microsoft in the past. In 1998, Massachusetts was one of twenty states to join the U.S. Department of Justice in a massive and prolonged antitrust suit against Microsoft. In 2001 the DOJ reached a settlement with Microsoft, in which most of the states joined, leaving Massachusetts as the only state objecting to the settlement and seeking stronger restrictions on Microsoft. Ultimately, a federal appeals court rejected Massachusetts' challenge, and in June of 2004 approved the settlement earlier negotiated on its behalf by the DOJ.

While such speculation has made for interesting news coverage and even more blog fodder, there appears to be no basis for any such link between the opinions of the Attorney General's office and those of Eric Kriss or Peter Quinn. Each person interviewed in connection with this article (including Alan Yates of Microsoft and Peter Quinn of Massachusetts), regardless of their position on the proposal, firmly refused to give any credence to this speculation.

At the same time, it would be true to state that those involved in making the decisions on behalf of the Commonwealth are strongly committed to achieving permanent freedom from "lock in" to proprietary formats. Or, in the novel words of Eric Kriss during the final public meeting held by the ITD on September 16, Massachusetts will not sacrifice its "sovereignty" over its IT infrastructure to any proprietary vendor. As a result, while the new policy is not directed at Microsoft, it will be disproportionately felt by that vendor as a result of its dominant market share in office productivity software.

The case for the amendment:  Unlike corporate end users and consumers, governments have long-term document retention obligations. And while detailed rules provide that various types of information may be discarded after set periods of time in order to minimize the burden of retention, much information still remains that must be archived on a permanent basis. Over the short course of the IT age, there have already been numerous market transitions in hardware and software, resulting each time in the need for difficult and expensive conversions of data, a trend that many government planners expect to extend into the indefinite future.

The ability to adopt standardized formats that would minimize the burden of indefinite retention is therefore extremely attractive to governments of all types, and would also facilitate the assembling of software and systems that could more easily share documents and data on a current basis. If these formats are well maintained and are mandated by increasing numbers of customers, incentives will exist for multiple vendors to adopt them, resulting in broad product offerings that will drive down costs. Best of all, if the formats are instantiated in open source software, acquisition costs (if not the significant support, maintenance and other costs of ownership that users of open source software still incur) will largely be eliminated, and the cost of competing proprietary versions of the same products should fall as well.

While initial conversion to such a system would be painful, the hope would be that the pain would be a one-time event, in contrast to the prospect of ongoing conversions of equal difficulty as proprietary vendors make substantial changes to their own products or the collapse or acquisition of a vendor leads a customer to switch software entirely.

The result, post-conversion, would be the ability to maintain a lower cost, more interoperable IT infrastructure that is less susceptible to disruption and is immune over the long term from lock in by a single vendor and monopolistic price increases, and which is less at risk of abandonment as well.

The case against the amendment:  Not surprisingly, Microsoft believes that the future would not be nearly so rosy. But the President and Vice President of Public Affairs of ACT also argue persuasively that there can be significant risks to adoption of the new policy.

From Microsoft's perspective, a primary question is why the concessions it offered to Massachusetts were deemed to be inadequate. As pointed out in the comment letter submitted by Alan Yates, Microsoft announced on September 19, 2004 that it would include the source code of Office 2003 in its Government Security Program. Under this program, qualifying government customers are able to gain access to both the source code for Office as well as the related XML Reference Schemas under terms of the Microsoft Government Shared License (Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server (TM) 2003, and Windows CE were already included in the program). Other benefits of the program include opportunities to communicate directly with Microsoft staff regarding current and proposed software, and access to additional documentation and training opportunities.

Microsoft also included a variety of more subjective comments in its letter, questioning the financial benefits and practical problems of the new proposal, the robustness of the OpenDocument standard, the validity of permitting the use of Adobe PDF but not Microsoft Office, the potential for the policy to prevent Massachusetts from adopting new innovations, and whether undue burdens would be placed on Massachusetts residents and businesses. Finally, Microsoft questioned whether the ITD had conformed with Massachusetts regulatory requirements involving notice, public comment, due process and internal procedures.

ACT raised similar concerns in two comment letters, one dated September 8, 2005, and a second undated letter that it delivered to Massachusetts, as well as additional criticisms relating to adverse impacts that it feared the policy could have on its small and mid-size business members.

Which is right?  Given the variety of points raised by various constituencies, there is no single answer to this question. Preliminary conclusions on most issues, however, can be reached on a point-by point-basis. Of particular benefit in this regard is the Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) document that was placed at the ITD site simultaneous with the posting of the final version of the amended policy. Many of the answers in that document provide additional details that may not have been unknown to various commentators, and other responses seem to indicate a retreat by the ITD from certain positions that it had earlier taken.

      How burdensome will the new policy be to state government?  While conversion to the new policy will still represent a significant challenge, the FAQ includes one very important statement that appears to be new: no conversion of existing documents is now contemplated only documents created after the effective date of the policy (January 1, 2007) will be required to be saved in an approved format. For the same reason, contentions (as in the Microsoft comment letter) that conversion will "significantly change countless legacy documents that are not fully supported by the newly designated format" will also not be a factor. As clarified by the FAQ, it appears that the evolving plan is closer to a commitment that the Executive Agencies (only) will make archival copies of new documents using approved formats rather than a campaign to convert state government, and those doing business with the state, entirely to an OpenDocument environment. This will still create burdens for the Executive Agencies, however, which will need to create documents in two formats (one for internal and one for external use), or convert at least some OpenDocument Format documents into other forms for transmission beyond the Executive Agencies.

      How burdensome will the new policy be to other Massachusetts governmental entities?   Microsoft contended in its letter that:

[T]here would be significant, and entirely unnecessary, costs incurred by all state agencies, departments, cities, counties, and school districts to procure new software applications that support the OpenDocument format for their individual users."

This statement is not accurate. Only documents saved by the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth must be in OpenDocument format. According to Peter Quinn the day before the announcement of formal adoption of the policy, its implementation will be "invisible" to the citizens and other public officials of Massachusetts. Presumably this means that although documents must be archived in the OpenDocument Format, they will be made available from Massachusetts websites in PDF or other formats that are already in common usage. Similarly, the FAQ document makes it clear that no documents will need to be submitted to the Executive Agencies in OpenDocument Format.

      Will existing proprietary format software need to be replaced?  No. Any Executive Agency employee may continue to use existing software (including Microsoft Office), provided that those document types that are currently supported by OpenDocument must be saved in that format, whether directly (if supported by the software in use) or through independent conversion, as would be necessary if the document was created using Microsoft Office.

      Will limiting acquisitions to a single format stifle innovation?  There are many ways to answer this question. One is to reflect that Microsoft has never adopted a number of wonderful features that WordPerfect included in its products almost twenty years ago, such as the "show codes" feature and WordPerfect's remarkably easy macro creation keystroke sequence. It is true that if increasing numbers of governments require OpenDocument Format compliance in their procurement of office productivity software, that this would tend to increase the focus of developers on developing compliant products. To the extent that the OpenDocument Format imposes limitations on their design of such products (as all standards necessarily must do), this could be considered a limitation on innovation. But it also may be agreed that competition is a powerful driver of innovation, and that limiting purchasing to the products of a single vendor that decides which features to offer can hardly be better than having a degree of enforced limitation on formats and allowing vendors to compete based on all other aspects of their compliant products. And until such time (if ever) as OpenDocument Format supported office suites overwhelm the market, there will be more than ample incentive for those that serve on the OASIS OpenDocument TC to make that format as competitive as possible in the marketplace.

      Does the policy limit Massachusetts to a single proprietary format?  TThis is the clearest example of efforts to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the marketplace by opponents of the Massachusetts proposal.  As earlier noted, the OpenDocument Format is not only based upon a product that has been in use in the marketplace for many years, but the OpenDocument Format is already the foundation for several other existing products, both proprietary as well as open source.  Version 8.0 of StarOffice, the original package from which the OpenDocument format evolved, was released by Sun Microsystems on September 27, 2005 for use on the Windows, Solaris and Linux platform.  It is also fully compliant with OpenDocument 1.0. In its press release, Sun aggressively (and certainly not coincidentally) promotes the appropriateness of its product for those needing an OpenDocument alternative to Office:

StarOffice software provides excellent compatibility with Microsoft Office. StarOffice 8 software further improves import and export of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, even password-protected MS Word and MS Excel files and presentations with complex animations, autoshapes and slide transitions. StarOffice 8 software also provides features that look more familiar to Microsoft Office users. The Format Paintbrush allows simple transfer of styles from one section of a document to another, and the Impress multi-pane user interface simplifies creation of high-impact presentations.

Although StarOffice includes the oldest code and is the first to claim full OpenDocument 1.0 compliance, it is hardly the only alternative that will be available to the Executive Agencies well before the conversion deadline.  Other alternatives include OpenOffice, IBM Workplace, and KOffice.  Although as of this writing Corel has not made an announcement that it will implement OpenDocument, it is a founding member of the OASIS TC and retains a meaningful number of government users for its office suite.  It also submitted a letter of strong support to the ITD, and is assumed by some to have a compliant product under development. [Editor's Note: Corel later announced that it will support OpenDocument, but did not announce a release date for a compliant version of WordPerfect Office.]

            Did the ITD violate Massachusetts regulations?  The comment letters of both Microsoft and ACT review the provisions of a number of Massachusetts statues, regulations and administrative procedures in detail, questioning whether the ITD failed to follow required procedures in advancing the proposal. Peter Quinn unequivocally denies that this was the case, stating that the Massachusetts process was extensively reviewed by legal counsel. Among other reasons for concluding that compliance was not required, he stated that the changes to the ETRM do not constitute rule making subject to regulation. However, he also stated that the ITD believed that public comment was useful and appropriate independent of statutory requirements, and that a decision had therefore been made to welcome public involvement on a less formal and regimented basis.

The comments of both Microsoft and ACT are tentative on this point, either through lack of conviction or perhaps due to the lack of public information available regarding what the ITD may or may not have done by way of internal vetting of the policy.  Although more than twenty months of open, public review of the policy amendments in their various drafts were provided, as well as several face to face meetings, the specific formal public notices mandated for some types of government action were not provided.  Compliance with other formalities called for under other possibly applicable laws, such as consultation with the Massachusetts Information Technology Advisory Board, would have been less visible, and is therefore more difficult to evaluate.

Constraints of time and space (not to mention the still limited amount of factual data) prevent a detailed examination of these issues in this article.  Nor is it likely, absent a legal challenge, that these contentions will ever be conclusively addressed.  However, further detail may be found in the FAQ on the internal vetting process followed by the ITD, as well as answers to specific contentions relating to procedural requirements.  It remains to be seen whether some of these responses (e.g., “There is no legal requirement that the ITD seek advice from the IT Advisory board on any IT initiatives commenced in the Executive Department; rather, a legal requirement is imposed on the Board to provide such advice to ITD”) will satisfy others in government that may be concerned with whether the ITD complied with the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

      Is the exclusion of Microsoft Office and the inclusion of Adobe PDF arbitrary?  This is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions by the ITD to reconcile. It is certain that the Adobe format does not meet the ITD's own original definition of "open standards" as announced in its January 13, 2004 policy statement: "Specifications for systems that are publicly available and are developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body." In fact, Secretary Kriss had already backed away from this definition at an "Open Formats Summit" meeting with stakeholders held on June 9, 2005. .  The brief public notes of that meeting reflect apparent agreement that, "There is no one definition of the term "open"; rather, there is a continuum of openness." While it is not possible in many cases to tell conclusively which statements in the notes of the meeting represent agreement and which are the record of opinions expressed by private sector attendees, the notes do conclude with three "Next Steps," one of which is to "Identify a continuum of acceptable open document standards for the Commonwealth."

Once having agreed to back off the original “bright line” definition that required adoption by a standards body, it becomes more difficult to define and justify the dividing line between what is, and what is not, acceptably “open.”  The FAQ answers the question as follows

While the MS XML schema is licensed under a somewhat open patent license, its license is not as open as Adobe’s copyright license for PDF.  Adobe’s copyright license for the data structures, operators and written specification constituting the interchange format called the Portable Document Format or “PDF” imposes minimal legal restrictions on developers.

Suffice it to say that it remains the prerogative of a customer to define the requirements for its purchasing, and the ITD has decided that the dividing line lies somewhere between Adobe PDF and Microsoft’s XML Reference Schema for Office and the licensing conditions related to their use.   But one cannot help feeling that the ITD would have benefited all concerned had it been more explicit in the FAQ response quoted above (the only guidance included in the FAQ document on this topic).  Such a vague statement provides no assistance to Microsoft in resolving the issue, or for other governments that may consider adopting their own open format policies.

At the end of the day, it may be that the approval of the PDF format may have been based more on pragmatism than on consistency in applying qualifying criteria:  there are available implementations (both open source and proprietary) that offer an alternative to most features of Microsoft Office, but there is no “more open” alternative to the PDF format.

            Will the benefits outweigh the challenges?  The comments of ACT (both public and as conveyed during this author's telephone interview with ACT's President, Jonathan Zuck, and Vice President of Public Affairs, Morgan Reed) are worthy of careful consideration. According to Jonathan Zuck, about 2/3's of its membership had an opinion on the Massachusetts proposal, and those with an opinion were mostly critical of the proposed amendments. In the case of ACT members that are systems integrators and consultants, there was concern that their services would become less valuable if large segments of the marketplace were to narrow their purchasing options to a small number of products. But there was also unhappiness over what members saw as a poorly vetted, aggressively pushed process that imposed broad-brush solutions that they believe would require "pounding square pegs into round holes."

More specifically, ACT expressed concerns that traditional standards processes may not only be slower than commercial development, but that the need to complete format upgrades before development could begin would automatically lengthen the process of innovation and implementation.  Rather than providing a platform for community innovation, they also stated that they expect individual vendors will compete to add features to their product that will ultimately defeat the initial goals of the policy.  And they also pointed out a mirror image concern:  if Massachusetts needs a new feature or change that is inconsistent with the existing OpenDocument format and is unable to persuade OASIS to include that feature, what then?

Zuck and Reed also believe that the last-minute addition of language to the policy recognizing the needs of disabled persons in response to the dozens of protests received on that topic gives further evidence of undue speed and inadequate public review.  Overall, they believe that Massachusetts will have a very difficult time making the new policy work.  At the same time, they also responded, when asked, that they expect that Microsoft would in fact have little difficulty adapting Office to support the OpenDocument format, notwithstanding its protests that doing so would cause irresolvable backward compatibility problems.

One question that arises from the FAQ is whether further analysis by the ITD may be leading it to trim back the implementation of the new policy to the point where the benefits will shrink even as the burdens merely shift, or even grow.  As presented, only newly created Executive Agency documents will be covered, and the FAQ recognizes that, “Implementation plans will take into account the need to maintain interoperability through the use of a variety of acceptable formats.”  In other words, OpenDocument will be used to achieve the core purpose of creating a hopefully safer long-term archive, but it appears that the Executive Agencies may be operating on the basis of redundant systems (and the continuing need to pay software license fees on any remaining software that does not support the OpenDocument Format) for some time to come

Conclusions: Not surprisingly, whether Massachusetts has made an expensive mistake, or a brave, bold move that will later be recognized as a turning point in public procurement, can only be determined over time.  The outcome of that determination will depend less on the degree of difficulty that the ITD encounters in making what it freely admits is a difficult transition than on the future of the OpenDocument Format.  If those already offering or developing software based on that format participate fully and forthrightly in ongoing OASIS development efforts, and if systems integrators, independent software vendors and open source projects embrace the opportunity to work with those that buy and sell such products, then Massachusetts’ bet on breaking the lock-in cycle will be well rewarded. 

The biggest variable in whether this will occur is whether or not other governments will follow the lead of Massachusetts and adopt the OpenDocument OASIS Standard.  If they do, then it will be a customers’ rather than a vendors’ game, and many of the concerns voiced by ACT will be mooted by the self interest of the vendors themselves, leading each to compete on services, features and quality for the largest share of the government market possible.  Similarly, if other governments join in- the work of the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee, the future course of the OpenDocument Format will stay closely attuned (as it is now) to government needs.

Either way, Massachusetts will need to take a long view, and can expect that it will have a bumpy road ahead in the short term.  But someone must lead the way, and every technology requires a first adopter.  The commitment of the ITD and its leadership must be applauded, given how easy it would be to maintain the status quo as one more sheep in the herd, and how difficult it will be to blaze a trail into what may prove to be a better future for all – but only if someone takes that first, most difficult, step.

Comments? Email:

Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove


August 9, 2005


For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.

Puritan divine John Winthrop famously uttered those words (based on a scriptural passage in the Gospel of Matthew) in a sermon in Boston in 1630. He also included them in a work entitled “On Christian Charity." His memorable phrase has been transplanted into various settings, and employed for many purposes, ever since (Ronald Reagan was particularly prone to quote Winthrop to illustrate his own vision of the mission of America).

One is tempted to recall Winthrop’s cautionary words yet again in the context of the decision by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to require use of the OpenDocument format by all of its Executive Agencies, becoming the first government of any size in the world to embrace the OpenDocument format.

There are more than superficial resemblances between calling for right conduct in public and right conduct in information technology. Making IT transitions is always, to state it frankly, a pain in the neck. One that is necessary on a frequent basis, to be sure, but what CIO enjoys procuring, installing, learning (and worst of all) training in connection with deploying a new IT resource? Governments, therefore, can play a key role in getting a marketplace over the hump of adopting new technology, especially where businesses are not sufficiently motivated to do so for their own reasons.

In the case of Massachusetts, there is something of the flavor of John Winthrop’s messianic quest as well. The Commonwealth, after all, was one of the most spirited states in pursuing antitrust charges against Microsoft not so long ago, and one of the most unwilling to fold its tents after the Department of Justice opted to settle. And while all (including Microsoft) agree that the current decision has nothing to do with the prior litigation, it nevertheless is an effort to strike a blow for freedom of data.
Is it over-reaching to recall Winthrop in such a context? Perhaps not, given the fervor of the open source community. True, the Open Document format is a standard, not an open source software product. But it has been instantiated in OpenOffice,  an open source office suite, and the uptake of other open source software will doubtless receive a solid push from the decision of Massachusetts to support OpenDocument.  And the goal of the new policy - independence from proprietary lock-in - is the same in each case.

But still, is that enough to invoke a comparison between Peter Quinn and John Winthrop? Perhaps it is. Consider the following press release from Open Source Victoria (as in Victoria, Australia), titled, OVA to States: Follow Massachusetts in Open Document Standards (the states being referred to, incidentally, are those Down Under, and not in North America). In part, the press release reads as follows:

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has announced the adoption of the OpenDocument XML file format as its preferred method for storing government documents….Open Source Victoria calls on all…Australian states and government agencies to also adopt this format, as it is the only viable approach to ensuring guaranteed access to public sector documents and data in perpetuity.

John Winthrop would hardly know what to make of software, but doubtless he would be pleased to know that a shot fired in Massachusetts can still be heard around the world.


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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove



[][][] September 29, 2005

#32 Clay Tablets, iPods and Evo/Devolution

The new Apple iPod Nano™ is truly the perfect marriage of stylish modern design and cutting edge technology. It weighs but 1.5 ounces, and, as one typically rhapsodic reviewer (struggling for a suitably expressive method of comparison) expressed it, is only "five dimes long." He went on to announce that the new Nano had received the "Editor's Choice" award.

And it is rugged, too. Two critics at the arsTechnica Website ("Serving the PC enthusiast for over 6x10-2 centuries") were also struggling for an angle for their review, and subjected a Nano to a series of increasingly violent "stress tests," failing to still its tiny, pristine voice even by driving a car over it -- twice.

The Nano is certainly, then, the ne plus ultra of storage technology: capable of storing massive amounts of data in the blink of an eye, of delighting its owner for up to 14 hours on a single charge, and even content to be physically abused in new and extreme ways for the amusement of jaded consumer electronic critics.

Or is it?

In some ways the Nano is vastly inferior from a technological perspective to one of the earliest means of storing data: the clay tablet.

Consider this: the Nano is a perfect example of what might be called "simultaneous evo/devolution" (as in "two steps forward, two steps back"). For at the same time that it represents the (current) apotheosis of instant storage and reproduction technology, it is also representative of our recent plunge into an information black hole that is swallowing all newly-created data, potentially never to be found again.

The useful storage of information, after all, depends upon how you define "useful." For example, attributes of utility would normally include the following (in no particular order): ease of input, ease of output, cost, fidelity, longevity, portability and transferability (i.e., can the data be easily extracted and stored elsewhere?).

Were we to rate our Nano against a typical cuneiform clay tablet (of which untold thousands remain in existence), it might compare as follows, based on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest:

Explanatory Notes
Nano: no FireWire synching; Tablet: stylus cramp
Nano: earbuds still in "mug me" white; Tablet: you can read, right?
Nano: high initial cost; Tablet: endless supply of basic ingredients
Nano: Almost perfect; Tablet: perfect (but still no cure for GI/GO)
longevity - user
Nano: Ran my car over it one too many times
longevity - archival
Nano: see below; Tablet: your car will break before it does
Nano: you don't know its there; Tablet: Please be brief!!
Nano: no Apple software? So sorry. Tablet: cramp time again

So what do we learn from this small exercise? Superficially, that the tablet beats the iPod by a meaningful margin, at least if you ignore the fact that clay tablets can't store music at all. But if we were using a PDA, the result would be about the same.

A meaningless comparison? Perhaps. So let's now rescore our contestants, this time weighting our attributes according to how we wish to use the medium. Here's how we'll do it: we'll only record the value for an attribute if it's one that we care a lot about. And we’ll also use some appropriate use cases in making the determinations: what a typical teenager is looking for, and what someone writing with a thought to archiving cares about. For the former case, we'll favor criteria such as data density and owner access, and for the latter longevity and comprehensibility. Here's how our new scoring might look after taking this approach:










1 (where's the keyboard?)





1 (Sanskrit?)





1 (make my own???)

1 Do you take shekels?




Who cares?

You call that music?


longevity - user


Who cares?

See answer above


longevity - archival


Who cares?

See answer above




Its, like, a bummer

See answer above




Why bother?

See answer above







This time, of course, the answers come out rather different, because instead of determining relative value on an absolute comparative basis, we are determining perceived value to a specific type of user. Or, stated another way, we’re paying the most attention to the attributes that are important to the person using the medium.

For thousands of years, the type of comparison just performed would have been meaningless. Why? Because there were no choices of media that had very different attributes. And also because until the dawn of the information technology age, the state of the information recording art progressed slowly sequentially, rather than rapidly and in branching fashion.

Expressed with another table, this is the point that I am making:


Data Type

Input Method

Output Method

tablet, papyrus paper, vellum

words, numbers, representational images

stylus, pen


paper - pre-1450


pen, add cut block


paper - post-1450


add printing press


chemical photography

add actual images

camera visual

wax cylinder, vinyl

add voice, music

add recording device

add audio; gramophone

magnetic media

voice, music

add wire recorder, tape recorder, etc.

add various playback devices


moving images, actual

movie camera

add projector

modern magnetic data storage and computer power

add databases, 3D images, streaming pornography, etc.

add webcam, camera phone, Mars Rovers, etc.

Add video deck, podcast, etc.

Now we can see that for millennia, advances in storage technology led to improvements in attributes such as transferability (tablet to papyrus) or even cost per copy (printing press). But the types of data that could be stored remained constant and the attributes differentiating one medium from another were minor. The last such innovative leap in this sequence was the invention of the printing press.

With the advent of modern technology, however, the number of storage methods and media began to proliferate. Once there were alternative media, input devices and output devices, all with different characteristics, there were real differences among them that favored one type of use over another. The result was choices – but also rapidly obsolete technology using physically unstable media – resulting in a radical decrease in the likelihood that data would survive throughout human (and technical) generations.

In contrast, preservation of data used to be inevitable (at least to some meaningful degree), due to the durability of media, the existence of a sufficient continuum of recorded human knowledge (e.g., the Rosetta Stone), and a limited number of ways that information could be recorded (e.g., letters, symbols) which facilitated deciphering even if that continuum was broken.

But what of our Apple Nano? Absent a proprietary interface and a continuing supply of iTunes format music, our elegant little toy will become only an output device. Absent a battery, it becomes merely an inscrutable, albeit an undeniably stylish, wafer.

And what of modern media itself? Thousands of Hollywood movies and television kinescopes have already deteriorated beyond redemption. Your LPs were left at the Swap Shed at the town transfer station years ago. Cassettes? Not even your car has a cassette deck anymore. The expected life of a CD or DVD? Don't ask. Your personal data? On your hard drive (have you backed up your computer today?) and a variety of servers scattered around the country. Virtually all of the news of the last five years? Servers again. No paper.

On the other hand, what of the works of Shakespeare, Avicenna, Thucydides, Mohammed, and Confucius? No matter how small your town, most or all of them will be found in the local library, each having been easily preserved, transcribed and handed down over the years, both in their original language as well as in myriad translations.

The moral of the story is that with choices come responsibilities. Not necessarily on a personal level, but certainly as a society. It is in this sense that the recent bold decision of the Massachusetts Information and Technology Division (see: Massachusetts and OpenDocument: A Brave New World?) represents a watershed in technologic civic responsibility, whether its implementation proves to be easy or painful.

It’s also just in time. For some hundred and fifty years now, we have enjoyed a heady florescence of media choices that have added immeasurably to the richness of our lives and the ability to express ourselves. But now we need to think more carefully about whether this richness will be preserved, and how. As technology continues to evolve, the difficulty of the task increases, rather than the opposite, unless we are willing to sacrifice some of the positives in exchange for more robust attributes such as longevity, transferability and ease of access over the long term. In the world of analog devices, the challenges were already difficult. In a digital world, absent rigorous interoperability standards and a new sense of discipline, it becomes impossible.

In short, we need to begin to balance choices with responsibility, and to create the infrastructure necessary to preserve and pass on to our heirs what has been created during our lifetimes to the same extent (if not necessarily in the same way) as the information of the last generation was preserved for us by our own ancestors.

And if we do not? (How did that song go…something like “Thanks for the Memories?")

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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove








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Massachusetts and OpenDocument in the Press

Quotes of the Day

A sizable win in the US for the ODF (OpenDocument Format) [September 1, 2005]


RedMonk Analyst Stephen O'Grady, on a Massachusetts proposal to require all State documents to be saved in OpenDocument or pdf formats...Full Story


Vendors, whether IBM or any other company, now have to be far more responsive to the mandates of government and these companies [September 9, 2005]

  IBM VP for Standards and Open Source Bob Sutor...Full Story
A Bit Stunned [September 9, 2005
  Microsoft's reaction to the Mass. Open Document format, as described by MS Office Program Manager Brian Jones ...Full Story
The world is about open standards and open source. I can't understand why anybody would want to continue making closed-format documents anymore [September 24, 2005]
  Mass. CIO Peter Quinn, announcing final adoption of a rule requiring Executive Agencies to save documents using the OpenDocument after 1/1/07...Full Story
Some in state government have talked about potential hearings to delve into this issue further, and we encourage that additional public review and evaluation [September 24, 2005]
  Alan Yates, Microsoft general manager of information worker business strategy...Full Story


What the scribes were saying:

We’ve spent a great deal of time researching and writing this issue in order to present what we hope is the most detailed recounting to date of the events leading up to the Massachusetts decision to require use of the OpenDocument OASIS Standard and Adobe PDF by the Executive Agencies.  But ever since the first news of the final Massachusetts comment period reached the marketplace, the stories have been flying thick and fast, many of them short, single message efforts to come up with a daily text bite (well-founded or not) on a hot issue.  Herewith we present a chronological sampling of what the press was saying from August 30, when the news first broke, and September 22, when the first story reported that the Information Technology Division had quietly posted its decision on its Website the night before.

Massachusetts software switch set to hit Microsoft
By:  Richard Waters
Financial Times/ September 1, 2005 -- The state of Massachusetts has laid out a plan to switch all its workers away from Microsoft's Word, Excel and other desktop software applications, delivering what would be one of the most significant setbacks to the software company's battle against open-source software in its home market. The state said yesterday that all electronic documents "created and saved" by state employees would have to be based on open formats, with the switch to start at the beginning of 2007. Documents created using Microsoft's Office software are produced in formats that are controlled by Microsoft, putting them outside the state's definition. ...Full Story


Massachusetts to adopt 'open' desktop
By: Martin LaMonica
CNET September 2, 2005 -- The commonwealth of Massachusetts has proposed a plan to phase out office productivity applications from Microsoft and other providers in favor of those based on "open" standards, including the recently approved OpenDocument standard. The state described the plan in a posting made to its Web site earlier this week as part of a public review process which ends Sept. 9. Massachusetts agencies have until Jan. 1, 2007, to install applications that support the OpenDocument file formats and phase out other products. ...Full Story


Legal worries led Massachusetts to open standards
By: Tom Espiner, September 6, 2005 -- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has cited legal concerns over Microsoft's software as a factor behind its decision to only use document formats based on open standards. Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, told CRN on Friday that Massachusetts had concerns about the openness of Microsoft XML schemas as well as with potential patent issues that could arise in the future. "What we've backed away from at this point is the use of a proprietary standard and we want standards that are published and free of legal encumbrances, and we don't want two standards," Kriss added. ...Full Story


Open Season in Massachusetts
By: Jim Wagner, September 12, 2005 -- The net effect of the commonwealth of Massachusetts proposal to switch its software to open standards support could be huge for government workers, as well as Microsoft (Quote, Chart). The commonwealth is inviting public comment until today on its plan to switch software only to those applications that support the OpenDocument standard for XML-based (define) text, spreadsheets and charts. The standard was adopted by the Organization for the Advancement of Structure Information Standards (OASIS) in May. ...Full Story


Microsoft fights bid to drop Office software
By: Robert Weisman, September 14, 2005
-- Microsoft Corp. has launched an assault on a Massachusetts government plan to move computer networks at all state agencies onto an open-file format by January 2007. Such a move, if approved, could displace Microsoft's profitable Office software and, if followed by other government bodies across the country and abroad, could threaten Microsoft's dominance on desktop computers in the public sector. The company now holds more than 90 percent of the global market in office productivity software. ...Full Story


IBM Warns on Open Documents
By: Sue Bushell
CIO Government September 20, 2005  --  In a subtle rebuke to Microsoft, IBM is warning vendors will have to be far more responsive to the mandates of government and business as governments around the world embrace open standards and open source. The warning came after the US State of Massachusetts unveiled plans earlier this month to phase out Microsoft Office in favour of office productivity suites that support an open-document format from the OASIS standards body. ...[A]s a number of bloggers have pointed out, government officials in Massachusetts, Europe, and elsewhere have repeatedly warned the company to stop posturing and instead address customers' calls for unrestricted interoperability. Now there are signs many other governments are paving the way for adoption of XML-based office formats, which is likely to drive the rest of the industry to follow suit. This has led to speculation that Microsoft might end up being stuck with a proprietary format no-one wants to use. ...Full Story


Massachusetts Verdict: MS Office Formats Out
eWeek, September 25, 2005 -- The state of Massachusetts Friday made it official: It will use only nonproprietary document formats in state-affiliated offices effective Jan. 1, 2007. Although state CIO Peter Quinn has said repeatedly that this issue does not represent "the state versus Microsoft Corp. —or any one company," adoption of the long-debated plan may result in all versions of Microsoft's Office productivity suite being phased out of use throughout the state's executive branch agencies. Massachusetts posted the final version of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model on its Web site. ...Full Story


Intellectual Property Issues

This makes a lot of people happy [September 13, 2005]


Wilson Sonsini's Michael Barclay, on a Fed. Circuit ruling invalidating the Lemuelson machine vision patent, after $1.5 billion in royalty payments...Full Story

Department of “well, never mind…”:  While the home page of the Lemuelson Foundation states that the foundation has given or committed over $90 million in support of it’s mission, to many the name “Lemelson” will always be synonymous with abuse of the patent system and the concept of the “submarine patent”.  And, while $90 million is no small number, it pales in comparison with the estimated $1.5 billion in royalties collected on patents that have at last been held to be invalid decades after their original filing (and continuation, and continuation…)  Some credit the eventual banishment of so-called “continuation practice” to the now-dead, but once prolific inventor and his life-long patent attorney, Gerald Hosier.

Lemelson Patents Ruled Unenforceable
Brenda Sandburg
The Recorder September 13, 2005  -- After hundreds of companies paid inventor Jerome Lemelson more than $1.5 billion in licensing fees, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has concluded that his patents aren't enforceable after all. The Federal Circuit ruled Friday that Lemelson's 18- to 39-year delay in prosecuting patent claims relating to machine vision and bar-code technologies was unreasonable. "Symbol Technologies is one of the few who has stood up to Lemelson," said Michael Barclay, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. "This makes a lot of people happy." ...Full Story


Remember Copyright Law? So much blood has been spilled over patents and standards in the past several years that it's easy to forget that copyright law is relevant as well. For most purposes, the application of copyright law to standard setting has been non-problematic for years, with little disagreement over what the rules should be. But now, the case described below indicates that the copyright law "fair use" exception that permits copying for purposes of achieving interoperability may be thwarted not only by something as mundane as a clickwrap license, but by utilizing the prohibitions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was enacted in October of 1998. Hopefully, the DCMA trapdoor approved in this case will be narrowed or closed, rather than approved and widened, in other courts.

Court Prevents Gamers From Creating
By: Lee Gesmer/Joe Laferrera
Gesmer Updegrove LLP September 12, 2005  -- This month, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Davidson & Assoc. (d/b/a Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.) v. Jung. This is the latest in a growing line of cases dealing with attempts to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent competition through interoperability. In Blizzard, the plaintiff was a developer of computer games. The games were intended to connect to Blizzard’s own network on the Internet, allowing far-flung players to compete against each other online. The company sued the defendants, who had developed a competing, alternative network designed to be compatible with Blizzard’s games....Though offensive use of the DMCA to prohibit inter-operability is still an unpredictable game, contractual steps can help alleviate the uncertainty. In the Blizzard case, a simple click-wrap agreement trumped the defendants’ statutory “fair use” right to reverse engineer. By handcuffing the public’s ability to experiment with a product in this way, a developer may impose a practical bar to third parties trying to create interoperable parts or services. In these circumstances, the reach of the DMCA may be secondary, with the inquiry focusing instead on the scope and enforceability of the contractual prohibition against reverse engineering. ...Full Story


Open Source

We have based the technology on open standards, so the computer is compatible to existing hardware and software used in different environments. [September 8, 2005]


Matts Brunell, participant in a group that has developed a ruggedized, 12 volt, low power drain, under US $200 computer for use in Third World countries...Full Story

Keeping it all together:  Those of us with (how to say this delicately) a certain number of years in the trenches well remember the rise of Unix as the Great Interoperable Hope of the IT industry, followed by its fragmentation, industry efforts to reunify the various resulting Unix flavors, and the ultimate abandonment of efforts to accomplish that evanescent goal.  Today, everyone’s darling is Linux, but just as occurred with Unix 25 years ago, the more powerful and acknowledged the open source upstart becomes, the more its distributors are tempted to think unclean proprietary thoughts.  Can Linux be saved from the fate of its tragic progenitor?  That’s the mission of the Free Standards Group and its Executive Director, Jim Zemlin.  With the release of Version 3.0 of its Linux Standards Base and pledges of support received from all of the major distro vendors, it's one step closer to achieving that worthy goal.

FSG touts LSB 3.0 features, acceptance, September 20, 2005 -- The Free Standards Group (FSG) is touting a major new version of the Linux Standards Base (LSB) approved in July. LSB 3.0 improves POSIX compliance and internationalizability, updates C++ compiler requirements, and adds new interfaces while removing deprecated ones. It is supported by "all major distributors," the LSB claims. ...Full Story


And that’s not all:  Meanwhile, semi-eponymous Debian creator Ian (as in Deb+Ian) Murdock is leading another effort to ensure the success of Linux, which began to release information on its efforts to assemble a common, standards-based Debian core for Linux Standard Base compliant, Debian-based Linux distributions.  Stay tuned for further news of its progress in the months ahead.

First code release for Debian consortium
By: Renai LeMay
ZDNet Australia, September 15, 2005 -- Founding members of the group, dubbed the Debian Common Core Alliance (DCC Alliance), include Knoppix, Linspire, MEPIX, Progeny, Sun Wah, UserLinux and Xandros. "The first preview release of DCC 3.0 PR1 was made available last week," Progeny chairman and Debian founder Ian Murdock wrote in his blog. He added that the next version was due late this week or early next week. The initial release only runs on 32- and 64-bit x86 architectures, as well as Intel's Itanium chips, he said. ...Full Story


It’s a small world after all:  If you use Google Alerts or otherwise stay tuned into global IT news, you know that the sun never sets on the open source empire, and that it appeals to governments everywhere, not least of all in the third world, where the licensing terms are particularly attractive, and where the positive impacts and opportunities represented by information and communications technologies (ICT) can be particularly profound, as demonstrated in the following two stories.

Science Minister Wants State to Embrace Open Source
By: Lesley Stones, Johannesburg, September 15, 2005  -- EFFORTS to increase use of open-source software in government departments have found a champion in Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena. The use of open source rather than proprietary software would have enormous benefits for the economy and society of SA, he said. But the unwillingness of some hi-tech suppliers to adopt more open, accessible and flexible technologies would mean technology remained unaffordable and inaccessible to most people in developing countries. ...Full Story


African women pledge allegiance to ICT
ITWeb, Johannesburg, August 29, 2005
-- Delegates to a Women's Mutingati on the Information Society held in Cape Town last week adopted a communiqué highlighting the importance of ICT in advancing women's causes and pledging to support open source software. Delegates from various governmental and non-governmental organisations from several African countries attended the Mutingati. The document issued after the event recognised the importance of ICT as a tool to support the empowerment of women. It also said the delegates intended to contribute meaningfully to, and implement the outcomes of, the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Tunis from 16 to 18 November. ...Full Story



Yes, that’s “billions:”  If you ever had any doubt that Europe is serious about standards, the first story below should set you straight.  It tells the tale of how the Europeans are joining forces with the Japanese – and pooling 2.5 billion Euros while they are at it – to steal a march on the United States in the middleware market.  What does it take besides enough money to buy a principality to pull that off?  A collaborative effort to “define standards for interoperability and the rules for governing the use of open-source software.”  There seems to be something about the number 13, because the second story describes another brand new European-based consortium, again with 13 founding member companies.

European consortium promises to beat US and Japan at middleware
By: Simon Taylor
IDG News Service September 9, 2005  --  A major new European research cooperation project will develop the next generation of middleware, according to the 13 founder companies. The initiative will have a 2.5 billion euro budget with part of the money coming from the companies involved and the rest from public sources including the European Union's funds for research and development. A key part of NESSI's work will be to define standards for interoperability and the rules for governing the use of open-source software….Full Story


Companies launch networked software research initiative
Simon Taylor
IDG News Service September 8, 2005 --  Thirteen software and telecommunications companies are launching a consortium to work together to develop new software and services based on open standards. The initiative aims to help Europe develop a "knowledge-based economy" in line with the European Union's Lisbon strategy of boosting competitiveness and growth by encouraging innovation, according to a representative of one of the companies involved in the consortium. The thirteen companies involved are: Atos Origin, BT Group, Engineering Ingegneria Informatica, IBM, HP, Nokia, ObjectWeb, SAP, Siemens Software AG, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, and Thales. ...Full Story


Web Services

The motive behind limiting what browser you develop for is laziness. If you develop Web applications, you must develop to the W3C standards. [August 27, 2005]


Richard Stiennon, VP of Tthreat Research for Anti-spyware Maker Webroot...Full Story


Web Services and Changing Times That another Web services specification has been offered to a standards organization is hardly remarkable, given the long line of submissions that has come before. What is interesting in this story, though, is not what is the same as past stories, but what is different. This time, a specification is being offered to the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), and does not include IBM among its sponsors. In a way, it's a sign of the times, and a reflection how much things can change over time in the technology industry. The initial Web services standards went to only a few core capability consortia, such as the W3C and OASIS, while the suite of Web services and (now Service Oriented Architecture standards as well) now extends in various directions, and therefore logically looks for the support of a wider array of consortia. The team of submitters for some time now often includes former Microsystems archenemy, and now ally, Sun Microsystems. And the concept of a group of companies deciding what standards are needed outside of a consensus-based standard setting organization, and what these standards should address before offering them to such a standards body, no longer excites comment. And last, but hardly least, Web services have become a reality, rather than a speculative, and often doubted, methodology.

WS-Management Specifications Submitted to DMTF for Standardization
By: Robin Cover
Cover Pages September 19, 2005 -- Microsoft and eleven industry partners have submitted the Web Services for Management (WS-Management) specification (V1, Edition 3) to DMTF for further refinement and finalization as a Web services-based management standard. WS-Management describes a general SOAP-based protocol for managing systems such as PCs, servers, devices, Web services, and other manageable entities. The Catalog describes default metadata formats used with the WS-Management Protocol. ...Full Story



Hang on to your rooftops: After years of anticipation, hype and hardball between competing design groups, WiMax -- the equivalent of Wi-Fi, but with a 40 mile range and faster (70 megabits/sec) transfer speeds -- is finally on the near horizon in its fixed-station form (a mobile version is still several years away). It's also close enough now that hard facts and figures can begin to be cited on costs, vendors, first markets and so on. And, in a reprise of the boon for owners of tall buildings in the early years of cell phones, prime urban, campus and similar high-rise locations for WiMax base stations will be at a premium -- and reap a premium rent from erstwhile WiMax service providers. The following article provides a concise overview of what the near-term future for WiMax will look like. For a more qualified opinion, see the second article (requires registration).

WiMax Keeps Gathering Momentum
By:  Kenneth M. Leon August 29, 2005 --  A number of recent developments since my last column (see BW Online, 6/20/05, "Here Comes WiMax World") indicate that all of the pieces are coming together for WiMax service. We at Standard & Poor's Equity Research feel confident that WiMax service will be commercially available in 2006. Trials by telecommunications carriers around the world are already under way. ...Full Story


WiMax: Wireless pie in sky or the next tech revolution?
By:  Matthew Foredahl
AP/ August 29, 2005 --  On a stormy day at an Argentine agricultural school, Maria del Carmen Villar stood in front of a camera that streamed her image over the Internet to a conference here - more than 6,500 miles away. The demonstration showed WiMax can fulfill at least some of its many promises over the years. Trouble is, despite years of promises, WiMax has yet to move beyond trials and carefully scripted demonstrations, including those at the Intel Developer Forum….Full Story


Story Updates

Remember Rambus?  Sure you do.  Well, here’s the latest on this ongoing legal saga.  It appears that Rambus has decided that perhaps its best not to sue its biggest customer after all.  And, as usual, the day traders are in on the action, gnashing their teeth and flipping their stock with equal abandon.  (No no, don’t tell me…Rambus…isn’t that Darl McBride’s company?)

Rambus says it won't sue Samsung, any more
By: Cher Price
The Inquirer, September 25, 2005 -- THE CASE CONTINUES and continues to continue in the 830 patent suit filed by Samsung against Rambus earlier this year. That one followed Rambus terminating Samsung's licence on stuff. Is it all coming back to you? A flurry of activity starting on the 20th of September is possibly responsible for the price of RMBS flying high again. ...Full Story


Standards and Society

With most medical records [of New Orleans evacuees] gone, if there ever was a case for electronic health records, this is it [September 11, 2005]


Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt, announcing the expedited formation of a public/private organization to set ehealth record standards...Full Story


You don’t need a weatherman to know which way your records blow:  While the need for national eHealth records standards had already been recognized and the mechanisms put in motion to begin the process of creating them, Hurricane Katrina supplied a sobering reminder why secure, readily accessible eHealth records are vitally important.  With over a million evacuees spread across the nation and the medical records of most either destroyed or inaccessible, the need for such a system became painfully apparent.

Health IT standards body in the offing
By: Mary Mosquera
Government Computer September 11, 2005  -- Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt this week will name the members of the public/private organization that will set standards to enable the exchange of health care data. Within two days, Leavitt said, he will select 17 members from federal and state government and from industry, including health care providers, insurers and IT vendors, to form the American Health Information Community. Interoperability will jump-start a market and spur adoption of such health IT systems as electronic health records, Leavitt said.... Katrina destroyed the paper medical records of thousands of New Orleans evacuees, many of whom are ill and no longer have medications. "With most medical records gone, if there ever was a case for electronic health records, this is it," Leavitt said. ...Full Story


Religious and financial standards do mix:  While the Great Books of many religions are intended to serve as guides to their followers, in Islam the Koran is regarded as a complete guide to modern life, as relevant today as it was when it was written, almost 1400 years ago.  In the late 20th century, it became necessary to reconcile modern needs with sacred teachings in the world of finance, when modern banking proliferated in the Arabic world.  The following article reflects the success of that effort.


IFSB to hold first Islamic financial services forum in Europe
The Edge Daily, September 21, 2005 -- The Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) is organising the Islamic Financial Services Forum: The European Challenge, which will be hosted by the Banque Centrale Du Luxembourg (Central Bank of Luxembourg). The forum will be held on Nov 8–9, 2005 in Luxembourg. IFSB is an international-standard setting body of regulatory and supervisory agencies for the Islamic financial services industry. ...Full Story

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