Massachusetts Falls to OOXML as ITD Punts

From Andy Updegrove:

In a not unanticipated move, Massachusetts announced today that Ecma 376, the name given to the Microsoft Office Open XML formats following their adoption by Ecma, would be acceptable for use by the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth. The announcement was made even as it appears more questionable whether the National Body members of ISO/IEC JTC1 will conclude that the formats are in suitable form to be granted standards status, and despite the fact that the ITD receive comments from 460 individuals and organizations during the brief comment period announced on July 5.

Most of those comments, “addressed revisions made to the Data Formats section [of the proposed changes to the Enterprise Technical Reference Model, or ETRM], specifically the inclusion of Ecma-376 Office Open XML as an acceptable document format for office applications along with the Open Document Format (ODF).” That number is several times the input received in connection with the original draft of the ETRM in August of 2005 that originally included ODF but not Microsoft’s OOXML.

The decision was posted today at the Information Technology Division’s Web site in a statement attributed to Henry Dormitzer, Undersecretary of Administration and Finance, Interim Commissioner, Department of Revenue, and Bethann Pepoli, Acting Chief Information Officer. That statement read in part as follows:

The Commonwealth continues on its path toward open, XML-based document formats without reflecting a vendor or commercial bias in ETRM v4.0. Many of the comments we received identify concerns regarding the Open XML specification. We believe that these concerns, as with those regarding ODF, are appropriately handled through the standards setting process, and we expect both standards to evolve and improve. Moreover, we believe that the impact of any legitimate concerns raised about either standard is outweighed substantially by the benefits of moving toward open, XML-based document format standards. Therefore, we will be moving forward to include both ODF and Open XML as acceptable document formats. All comments received are posted on this web site.

The “Fair and Balanced – let someone else decide” decision by the current administration and interim CIO Bethann Pepoli stands in sharp contrast to the positions taken by predecessor CIOs Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez, backed by then governor (and now-presidential hopeful) Mitt Romney. Both Quinn and Gutierrez insisted on including only “open standards” in the ETRM, and withstood significant pressure from Microsoft to give ground and accept OOXML prior to its adoption by ISO/IEC JTC1.

He ends the blog post with:

Massachusetts – or, more properly, a small number of courageous public servants – did something important two years ago when they took a stand for open formats. It is regrettable that their successors have seen fit to abandon that principled stance, even to the expedient extent of waiting a short while longer to see whether Microsoft’s OOXML formats will be found to be sufficient or lacking under the microscope of the global standards adoption process.

Unlike so many days before as the saga of ODF and OOXML has unfolded, this is not a day to be proud in Massachusetts.

I do find it odd that the ITD didn’t wait what is probably about a month or so to see how the ISO approval process went. Massachusetts defines an Open Format as follows:

“The Commonwealth defines open formats as specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, affirmed and maintained by a standards body and are fully documented and publicly available.”

It seems clear to me that OOXML does not meet this definition, arguably in multiple ways. Matthew Aslett points out some of the revisionist history that seems to be taking place at this point. As Andy points out, this is not an unanticipated move. That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing though.


IBM Pledges Free Access to Patents Involved in Implementing 150+ Software Standards

From the press release:

IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is granting universal and perpetual access to certain intellectual property that might be necessary to implement more than 150 standards designed to make software interoperable.

One likely result of the pledge to commercial and open source communities is that it will be easier for more computing devices and software to be compatible with one another. The move, which IBM believes is the largest of its kind, is also designed to spur industry innovation, while discouraging litigation.

The software specifications and protocols involved in the pledge underpin industry standards, such as those reflected in Web Services: programming, transactions and data exchanged on the Internet and Web. These are typically under, or moving toward, stewardship by standards groups such as the World Wide Web Consortium and OASIS.

“IBM is sending a message that innovation and industry growth happens in an open, collaborative atmosphere,” said Bob Sutor, IBM’s Vice President of Open Source and Standards. “Users will adopt new technologies if they know that they can find those technologies in a variety of interchangeable, compatible products from competing vendors. We think customers will like this added assurance for the open standards upon which they have come to depend.”

IBM’s commitment not only applies to the distributors, developers or manufacturers that are implementing the specifications involved, but also extends to their users or customers. It is valid as long as adopters are not suing any party — not just IBM — over necessary patented technology needed to implement the standards.

Matthew Aslett puts it well:

I’ve just taken a first look at IBM’s promise not to assert its patents involved in implementing 150 software standards and it appears to be a work of art in its simplicity.

Here’s how the pledge works:

Just get on with developing interoperability based on these standards – don’t even bother coming to us to get a license, you don’t need one.

But if you assert patent claims against IBM, or any one else for that matter, relating to these standards, you better make sure you’ve got the lawyers ready.

Compare the elegant simplicity of this approach with trying to pick and choose which partners to collaborate with based on complex and divisive patent covenants.

Of course, IBM didn’t do this out of pure altruism. Surely they think they can compete more effectively on a level playing field. Opening up in this way will help bring parity to that field. The 3rd party inclusion is also a great way to battle things like the recent Microsoft patent FUD. It’s a reminder of mutually assured destruction. Hopefully others such as Sun and HP, who could benefit in similar ways as IBM, will join the fray. Despite the business implications of a decision like this, it’s impressive how a company as big as IBM (and with the history of IBM) is able to see the big picture like this. They saw the light far earlier than many. You can find additional coverage by Bob Sutor here. A big thanks is due IBM for this one.


Update on ODF and Massachusetts

As Andy points out, “Silence means consent”. If this is a topic that is important to you (and it should be), I’d also encourage to take a few minutes and make your opinion known.

A few days ago, I posted my comments to the Mass. ITD on whether or not it should include OOXML in its list of approved standards. I also urged anyone with an opinion on this issue to send their own comments to the ITD at this address: Now, Pamela Jones, who has contributed hugely to the ODF effort in the past, has just posted a long and informative entry at Groklaw, pointing her readers to various resources that they may wish to consult in preparing their own comments, as well as ideas on the various areas upon which comments may be relevant. PJ has done her usual great job on this, and I’d encourage you to read her entry to see how her observations strike you.

It’s particularly important for you to consider doing so, because I learned from a reporter today that only about 50 comments have been filed with the ITD so far. With only 8 days to comment left, this compares very poorly to the over 150 comments that were received by the ITD in 2005. I have no idea what percentage of these comments are pro OOXML and what percentage urge the ITD to stick only with ODF, but given the small number in total, it could easily be disproportionate in one direction or the other, especially if a concerted effort has been made by one constituency or the other to influence the outcome.

Regular readers will know that I think that this is an important issue. Right now, the default decision in the ITD’s new version of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model is to include OOXML. In my last post, I paraphrased one slogan from the activist 1960’s that helped to shape a lot of who I am today. I’d like to now offer another catchphrase from those braver and more involved times, this time a chant from the many protest rallies that punctuated the antiwar movement: “Silence means consent.”

That slogan is particularly apt now, because the fewer the comments the ITD receives, the more certain will be the result. After all, if people no longer care, why should the ITD stick its neck out? The past immediate experiences of both Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez have made the consequences all to obvious. These people aren’t paid combat pay to be controversial – they’re just supposed to keep the IT structure effective for our benefit. If we want them to do more than just do what they’re told by vendors, we owe it to them to back them up.


Massachusetts May Adopt OOXML – What Say You?

Andy continues his prodigious coverage of the Massachusetts OOXML/ODF debate. From a recent post:

The Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD), the state agency that effectively launched the voyage of ODF around the world in August of 2005, has released a new version of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model. And this new draft includes Microsoft’s OOXML formats as an acceptable “open format.” The new draft was posted today here, and the very brief comment period will end on July 20. The header to the announcement at the ITD Web site reads as follows:

A review draft of ETRM v. 4.0 is available for review and comment from July 2nd through July 20th, 2007. Comments should be submitted to This major release of the ETRM updates content published in version 3.6, introduces the new Management Domain, enhances the ETRM’s format for accessibility and usability as well as provides additions and updates to existing language and technical specifications. For a detailed outline of major revisions made in this version please consult the Major Revisions for ETRM v.4.0 document.

The announcement is not a surprise to me, as I’ve been following the progress of the ITD’s internal reviews over the past six months. I’ve not been commenting on this publicly in order to try to give Bethann Pepoli (once again the interim CTO, since the departure of Louis Gutierrez) and her team the space to do their internal evaluations with less pressure than Peter Quinn experienced the first time around. However, and as you can imagine, the ITD has been under as much pressure behind the scenes (and perhaps more) as the legislators of those states that have recently tried, and failed, to pass laws that would mandate open formats in government.

The OOXML-related changes to the text of the ETRM are deceptively insignificant. By my word search, there are only three references: the inclusion of the name of the standard in the introductory summary of changes, a brief description and migration section in the Domain: Information part of the draft (scroll down and look for the “Open Formats” section), and the listing of Ecma among the other standards bodies on a list of “Relevant Standards Organizations.” But the potential impact of these change if retained will be great.

How much pressure has the Massachusetts ITD been under to accept Ecma 376? I’ve been told by those in the know that the contacts reached all the way to Deval Patrick, our new governor. Here, as in the states where legislation was introduced, the point was forcefully and repeatedly made that Microsoft is the kind of company that can provide jobs and other economic support where and as it pleases. And, to be fair, the same points were been made in the past by representatives of IBM and Sun when they have spoke out in favor of ODF.

Now we are looking at a very short comment period, commenced with no advance warning, spanning a holiday, and contained within one of the busiest vacation months of the year (one can’t help wondering why).

That makes the comment period less than 14 business days in a month that, as Andy points out, is one that is very popular for vacationing. Assuming the addition of ECMA 376 moves forward, the question becomes how large of a blow is this to ODF? Opinions on that remain all over the map. Some seem to think it’s a minor setback while others say it could potentially relegate ODF to being a footnote in history. The fact remains that OOXML still only has a single implementation. It’s also unclear if the latest version of Office completely implements the spec or implements items not in the spec. This means that if ODF adoption doesn’t gain any traction, Microsoft will easily be able to move forward with proprietary extensions, let ECMA 376 languish or even drop support in the future altogether. In other words, we’ll be right back where we started. That’s a bad thing. Andy has further coverage on the topic, including reactions from around the industry.