Peter Quinn Tells it Like it Was

Peter Quinn is out on the hustings telling his story, and for the first time has posted his slide show for public view. Here's what he has to say.

For the first time, to the best of my knowledge, Peter Quinn’s still-evolving slide set on the OpenDocument Format (ODF) saga is available on line (in ODF, of course, as well as in PDF form). The version posted at the OpenDocument Fellowship site is one I’ve heard twice before, the first time at Armonk on November 1, when Peter expected to be doing something very different than he is today.

What Peter is doing today, among other things, is going on the stump to preach the gospel of open systems, and the presentation posted is the one he gave Friday at SCALE 4X, the Southern California Linux Expo. Peter will be sharing his thoughts in other venues as well, including, not surprisingly, as the Keynote speaker at OASIS Symposium 2006, which will be held in San Francisco on May 9 � 12.

The presentation now available on line is somewhat poignant, in that most of the first 50 slides (out of 60) were all created back when Peter was flying high as the Massachusetts CIO, leading the charge of his Information Technology Division (ITD) into a brave new world of open systems based on open standards and open source. They describe the state of the Massachusetts IT infrastructure (or lack thereof) when Peter took over in 2003, and the “perfect storm” he encountered â�“ a tight budget with worse expected to come, a new IT commission, and a new administration â�“ and how he viewed it as an opportunity rather than a hurdle. In his words, “We had an opportunity that only comes around every 15 or 20 years to truly transform IT.”

The effort gets off to a bit of an uphill start, as a multi-state initiative to create shared software and standards that commenced with monthly meetings among CIOs bogs down. But at the same time, then Secretary of Finance and Administration Eric Kriss and Quinn are moving full speed ahead to develop an “Open Standards/Open Source Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM),” which they release in first-draft form in 1.5 months.

That first version of the ETRM draws fire from many sectors, including the Massachusetts Software Council, the legislature, and some advocacy groups � but it also attracts applause from other organizations and open source advocates around the world. Eventually, the open source elements and the open standards requirements are separated, with the former being desirable when appropriate, and the latter mandatory in all situations.

The story continues through committee hearings, open meetings, new drafts of the ETRM, and to the eventual adoption of the policy last September â�“ without approval of the Microsoft XML Reference Schema but including endorsement of ODF and Adobe PDF. After the ETRM is adopted there is a rapid escalation of opposition that culminates in Peter’s resignation as CIO on Christmas Eve.

The slides also describe in detail the IT environment that the ETRM was creating, as well as the real functionality needs (and, as importantly, the functionalities deemed to be superfluous) of the Executive Agencies, as determiend by the ITD, including Peter’s conclusion that the office suite as we know it today is outmoded, loaded with many features that few actually need, overly expensive – and therefore unnecessary.

The presentation includes quite a few new slides as well, which begin to appear with increasing frequency among the older material as the time frame moves forward. Some of these slides detail the personal attacks and the political opposition that begin to build. One slide (number 40), for example, reads as follows:

Boston Globe Investigation cont:

– Numerous requests for Ombudsman to investigate by outside people (to no avail)

– Everyone saw it for what it was: a blatant attempt to discredit the format initiative

Understand that some folks will stop at nothing to destroy “Open Format” as they tried with Open Source

And another (number 42) that that reads like this:


Two favorite headlines:


Boston Globe:

Microsoft Bows to Massachusetts (MS has gone to ECMA for approval of XML Schema)

London Inquirer:

Open Doc Man: “Cleared of Smear”

After slide number 44, most of the slides relate to matters and thoughts that postdate Peter’s resignation. Number 45 is headed “Continued Personal Initiative,” and reads as follows:

– Make accessibility as an issue disappear

– Presumed on Industry to “Commit and act on Open Standards” and leave the religious Open Source debate at the door

– Coalesce as I, we, know you can and create serious agreed upon actions and execute

– Important to the community to lower the price point; if solutions are Open Sourced, the community can do its own work

– And everyone in this room will need it

If anything, Peter seems more committed to open source now than before. Slide 47, for example, reads like this:

– “Open Source” is one avenue of a multi- faceted pincer strategy to create meaningful sustainability of IT with a very different cost structure in government.

– “The cost of Government is not sustainable in its present form.”

Several slides beginning at number 52 are titled “Some Opposition Comments and My Final Thoughts.” Each includes a contention of the anti-ODF camp, followed by a “Retort” representing Peter’s counterargument. Respectively, they refute the contentions that the ITD was trying to be a “regulator;” that IT policy should be the sole province of the legislature; and that Massachusetts was following an “ABM” (Anything But Microsoft) agenda. This section ends as follows:

– We would say the following to put this issue in context:

– Ma was the first state with a public school

– Ma was the first state with a public library

– Both are about access to information

– Ma is the first state to establish standards for open formats insuring information access for future generations

Is this initiative any less compelling?

Overall, it’s quite a saga, and needless to say, it’s not over yet. And, of course, even when it’s over in Massachusetts, it won’t be all over, because Massachusetts is only one state, and many other governments and agencies â�“ local, state and national – are upgrading their IT infrastructures and relying more heavily on open standards (always) and open source (increasinglyl), and making their own evaluations of ODF as well.

In consequence, what Eric Kriss and Peter Quinn started in Massachusetts is only a beginning, and not an end. Peter Quinn, may be out, but he’s not down.

I can’t help closing with the same slide Peter used as his final word in his presentations during happier times (it’s now slide 50). It reads like this:

– There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. John F. Kennedy US Democratic politician (1917 – 1963)

– Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain


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