IBM Weighs in Behind ODF in MA

IBM's Bob Sutor writes to Romney's office to point out that IBM's 5,000 Massachusetts' jobs are squarely behindn ODF

While there certainly has been little reason to doubt where IBM stands on ODF, it was reassuring to see it pledge its support today in a letter delivered to Massachusetts Secretary of Executive Agency Finance and Administration Thomas Trimarco. The letter is signed by IBM’s VP of Standards and Open Source, Dr. Robert Sutor (it was Bob, you may recall, who hosted the Armonk Meeting back on November 4.


Bob’s letter doesn’t hesitate to establish IBM’s right to make its opinion heard. It opens as follows:

With all the recent activity around document formats and the strong leadership position taken by Massachusetts, I’m writing to you to reaffirm IBM’s full support for the OASIS OpenDocument Format for Office Applications (ODF) standard. IBM, with our nearly 5000 employees in Massachusetts, is pleased to continue our active participation in the open, community-driven OASIS standardization process as well as our support for this important global standard in an upcoming version of our IBM Workplace product. Massachusetts is one of the epicenters of IBM software innovation, which will continue to be a key growth engine for our company. Lotus, Rational and Ascential all call the Commonwealth home and are developing the next generations of customer solutions based on open standards.

As it happens, Massachusetts lost over 6,000 software jobs last year, dropping from 135,00 to 128,600, according to what until recently was called the Massachusetts Software Council.


Bob’s approach in the letter is to compliment Trimarcho’s office on the approach that led to the selection of ODF, and to call upon the Commonwealth to continue to apply the same high standards in evaluating other contenders for approval. In that regard, he notes the distinction between the already completed, open process that has brought ODF not only to adoption by a well-regarded international standards organization (OASIS), but to multiple implementations as well, and contrasts this reality with the fact that Microsoft’s XML Reference Schema are still more than a year from achieving the same status — if ever.


Here’s how he puts it:

In particular, you should study closely how standards are initially developed, maintained, made available, allowed to be implemented, and are made usable with other standards. Within OASIS, ODF was both developed and will be maintained in an open fashion by multiple stakeholders. This is not just a promise that might come true in a year or two, this is what has already happened. History has shown that this is a strong disincentive for vendors who might want to add interoperability-breaking, proprietary extensions. Anyone can freely get a copy of the ODF standard and implement it. Since the ODF standard is already in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) fast track process, I’m confident that 2006 will be a very big year for adoption of ODF and ODF-compliant software by governments, organizations, and businesses around the world.


As you have done so far, you should require evidence of broad implementation of a standard. ODF has real, multiple implementations and there are more organizations building in support for it right now. This broad acceptance of and support for ODF is fact today and not something that is wished or hoped for in the future. In this way you will guarantee that Massachusetts can obtain the necessary software to run its citizens’ business in a cost effective way, while maintaining your historical legacy for all to read and access.


Sutor’s letter to Trimarcho follows one day after a letter of similar tenor and argument was sent by Sun Microsystems, over the signature of its Director of Corporate Standards, Carl Cargill. I don’t know the exact number of employees that Sun has here but it has a huge campus in Burlington, on Route 128, as well as other in-state locations. I’d be surprised if it did not have at least several thousand employees within the Commonwealth. That means that these two letters speak for somewhere between 6 and 7% of all high paying software jobs in Massachusetts.

The net effect of these two letters, one would hope, is that the Commonwealth will (a) not repudiate the ITD’s commitment to ODF in the face of such strong support, and (b) await actual adoption in satisfactory form of the XML Reference Schema by (at least) Ecma, under acceptable license terms from not only Microsoft, but all Ecma members, before granting equivalent status to the Microsoft offering under Massachusetts’ IT policy.


This kind of support is important to achieve that end, as it’s clear that Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin and Senator Pacheco are hostile to State CIO Peter Quinn’s ODF initiative, and even Governor Romney’s office has been distancing himself from the ODF situation. A statement from his office, attributed to Thomas Trimarco (to whom both the IBM and the Sun letters were addressed), reads as follows:

The commonwealth is very pleased with Microsoft’s progress in creating an open document format. If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats.

The key words here, of course, are “follow though as planned.” Hopefully IBM’s and Sun’s focusing attention on what that should mean will help ensure that if the Microsoft formats come to be accepted as the equivalent of ODF in Massachusetts — and elsewhere — it will because they have earned it. You can read the full text of Bob’s letter at his blog. You’ll find quite a few prior posts on ODF and XML there as well, and it’s a good place to watch for future news.


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