Massachusetts: You’ll Use the Open Document Format and Like It

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Interesting. I’m not sure if this qualifies as breaking news, but I appreciate our friends in the community and within RedMonk clients (who I won’t name per my policy, but who should feel free to identify themselves if they wish) for passing on word that the Open Document Format (ODF) Technical Committee (TC) has been notified that it’s the State of Massachusetts’ intention to standardize on that open standard (here’s my definition of open standard vs format). The relevant link is here, while the important text as far as I’m concerned are these bits:

Guidelines – The OpenDocument format must be used for office documents such as text documents (.odt), spreadsheets (.ods), and presentations (.odp). The OpenDocument format is currently supported by a variety of office applications including OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace.

Migration – Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable. Agencies will need to develop phased migration plans with a target implementation date of January 1, 2007. In the interim, agencies may continue to use the office applications the have currently licensed. Any acquisition of new office applications must support the OpenDocument standard.

Agencies should begin to evaluate office applications that support the OpenDocument specification to migrate from applications that use proprietary document formats. As of January 1, 2007 all agencies within the Executive Department will be required to:

  1. Use office applications that provide native conformance with the OpenDocument standard, and
  2. Configure the applications to save office documents in OpenDocument format by default.

Translation: don’t start grumbling about what a headache this transition’s going to be – we already know that, and despite that have mandated this switch. This is a particularly interesting decision because we’ve heard behind the scenes grumblings from time to time that Massachusetts’ leanings in the direction of open standards and open source have, at the most basic level, had little or nothing to do with either, and everything to do with bettering their bargaining position with respect to Microsoft. This decision would obviously seem to belie that belief.

The importance here is more symbolic than anything, of course. While Massachusetts is undoubtedly a sizable contract for Microsoft, the revenue is incidental to the big picture: a sizable win in the US for the ODF. As many purveyors of alternative desktop or office productivity tools can tell you, traction for their products have been good to great in various geographies abroad, but far less impressive here in the United States. That’s attributable to a variety of factors: some technical, some political, some economic, but the net of it is that the US market has been a difficult one to crack. With a state of Massachusetts’ economic and political significance mandating standardization on an open standard currently not supported by Microsoft Office, however, it’s interesting to speculate on how long the market will remain similarly impenetrable.

Anyhow, this decision raises two important questions for me:

  • First, and most obvious – is Massachusetts an indication of things to come, or an exception? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to this and will be actively seeking out answers within other state and federal agencies (anything any of you can do to help in that regard would be appreciated, incidentally). If this is indeed a precedent for similar future movements towards the ODF, this is a very big deal. Even if it’s not, or the decision here is limited to a few other like-minded states (Oregon, perhaps?) – it’s still a big deal, but likely one that Microsoft can work around.
  • The second question, and the $64 thousand dollar one as far as I’m concerned, is whether or not we’ll see support for the Open Document Format within Microsoft Office. I’m already on the record as recommending this approach, but I’ve heard several times that Microsoft has no intention of supporting the OASIS standard in the product, and instead will work through a third party add-on for this. Will have to connect with the Office folks to get their take on this matter. Assuming for the sake of argument that Microsoft does not support the format natively, but does via a plugin of some sort – would it still be considered an equal footing player for office productivity contracts in an environment that’s entirely predicated on ODF compatability? It’d be like a bizarro world where Microsoft rather than Open Office would be playing the catch up game.

I’m also sort of curious as to what Massachusetts’ reaction was to the Office Open XML formats announced previously, but that point’s sort of academic now. In any event, as someone who believes that the Open Document Format is vitally important for enterprises, governments and ISVs the world over this is good news indeed. Following the finalization of the ODF, we’ve been asked by both consumers and producers of office productivity technologies whether we expect the format to gain traction, and my answer has been simple: yes (will have more on that shortly). It’s good to see that belief validated, if only by a single institution.


  1. Game, set, match!

    Hi Stephen,

    This is world breaking news. The Massachusetts decision to require the OpenDocument XML compound document file format specification has brought me to my knees. My eyes well up with tears at the thought. It's incredible.

    On the face of it, it would seem to be a natural course of action to adopt an Open XML Standard as a requirement of all software purchases. But this was anything but an easy process.

    The first point is easy. Everything is moving to the Open Internet, and Open XML technologies are both the API, the file format, and the messaging layer for the next generation of Open Internet collaborative computing. No if, ands, or butts. Open XML technologies are essential to the Web 2.0. So essential that there is no Web 2.0 without XML. Nor is there any use for Open Internet portable run time engines and frameworks like Java or .NET without XML. What good is a universal logic engine without content, data, streaming media, and the means to move it across the global infogrid?

    XML is it. It is the universal transformation layer. It is the universal transformation layer that defines how collaborating people collaborate with the full force and computational power of their always connecting logic – information processing machines. The interactive machines of our minds.

    The amazing thing about what Massachusetts has done is not that they did the obvious. It's that they made the right decision, choosing a future based on an Open Internet, based on Open Standards and backed by Open Source, against impossible odds. They did this in the face of great conoversy and pressure. Pressure the likes of which few political entities can endure. This decision came at a time when Microsoft had lost to OpenDoc XML a similar battle in the European Union, and was dug in and determined to pay any price, endure any corruption, and use all of their considerable influence to persuade Massachusetts to not do this!

    This decision by Massachusetts levels the playing field for desktop productivity solutions and competitive operating systems. It breaks the legacy lock Microsoft has long had based platform dependent and application bound file formats. It breaks the upgrade treadmill that has long served to enrich Redmond while effectively excluding all other competitors. This is a great day. This day insures that two hundred years from now, when they use processors, computing architectures and applications we can't ever imagine, future generations will be able to access, re configure, and re purpose all of our information. We are at the dawn of the information age, with the earliest sliver of light cascading down on an emerging digital civilization. Yet, with OpenDocument XML, our information is guaranteed to live forever. We may be digital pioneers, but our collective thoughts, efforts, and collaborations will endure because we have a human – machine readable structured file format that is separate from platform bound applications and processing restrictions.

    I have to confess that i am one of those who doubted Peter Quinn and Eric Kriss. For the life of me i couldn't see them being able to stand against the rain of dollars Redmond was pouring down on the Massachusetts political infrastructure. But they did it. In April of 2005, Eric has sent me numerous request for comment and advice. From the way things were going all i could see was that OpenOffice.org and OpenDocument XML were being used to keep the rain cloud pouring forth Chairman Bill dollars. And he has a lot of dollars.

    Alas, I was wrong. Peter Quinn, Eric Kriss, and Timothy Vaverchak stood tall and defended against all odds the interest of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Money and corruptive influence be dammed. This is an amazing feat of integrity, political prowess, and determination to do what is right for future generations. I can only hope that the people of Massachusetts someday realize the magnitude of courage and integrity demanded of those who made this stand.

    Credit has to be given to the European Union for setting straight the course, and writing the first requirements blueprint for the Age of the Open Internet. During this difficult process, the EU made many requests of the OASIS OpenDocument XML Technical Committee (TC). All of which were delivered in spades. In contrast, Massachusetts never made a single request of the OpenDoc XML TC. Which is, in its way, the ultimate compliment to the EU for having done such a thorough job with OpenDoc. Every base was covered, enabling Massachusetts to focus on fighting of one of the most well funded political battles of our time.

    According to long time open source expert Sam Hiser, who was invited to and participated in the Massachusetts Open Format Summit, what the EU considered to be the crown jewel, the XForms-SVG-SMiL aspects of OpenDocument, did not enter into the Massachusetts considerations. Whoa! You mean we have reserve gunpowder? That we didn't even need to shoot the whole wad to get the Massachusetts endorsement? That we can save the big guns of next generation collaborative computing for the next battle?

    This is bad news for Microsoft. If they get into an XForms argument with OpenDocument they will lose. And lose bit time. (Thanks to the EU and the great work going on at the W3C that is fully embraced by OpenDoc).

    It's no secret that Massachusetts is the touch stone for 16 other states. Not everyone can afford the costly process of writing Open Internet requirements needed to take all information systems into the digital future. One of the things Massachusetts has gifted to mankind is a blueprint of how to do this. And their blueprint is in turn based on the one the EU crafted. This battle will be won one government, one organization, one vertical business category at a time, but there is no doubt every succeeding organization will study carefully what happened in Massachusetts, and how they came up with their Open Internet blueprint. Those studies will also include how Microsoft attacked their Open Source – Open Standards – Open Internet adversaries.

    And Microsoft will no doubt adapt. But the course has been set. The stars are aligned. The Open Internet has arrived and it is bigger and more influential than any predator, including Microsoft. Open XML is the wave of the future. And OpenDocument is unstoppable. Never again will platform bound applications unmercifully dictate non interoperable file formats. The separation is complete. The people of Massachusetts are among the first to claim ownership of their information, and their information processes. There will be others.

    IBM, Adobe, Sun and Novell are poised to pounce. Google can not be far behind. The playing field has been leveled and all comers are welcome to take their best shot. If Microsoft has anything in reserve, now's the time to play it. Otherwise, they are about to get dusted. Big time. The Open Internet has once again shown it's teeth. That unique ability to effortlessly route around barriers, threats, and blockages continues to amaze.

    This is indeed a big deal. Thanks to Peter Quinn, Eric Kriss, and Timothy Vaverchak, among others. What courage! We won't let you down.


    OASIS OpenDocument XML TC member representing the OpenOffice.org community

  2. Steven-
    Your views here are valuable and much appreciated. Your two questions are germane and interesting but I’d like to establish an important context first, which is missing from just about every discussion so far.

    Part of the beauty of Peter Quinn’s team’s approach here is that if they were seeking to fire Microsoft, they did it in just the right manner. And if the result is that Microsoft wins back the account by adopting OpenDocument as the default format, then we are better off, too.

    It’s brilliant that the team, instead of getting wrapped up in a vendor dispute, has moved the conversation to the fundamentals of SOA with open XML standards as the center-piece. This is a much broader and more important conversation about data reuse, interoperability, integrity, etc. of which the document formats discussion is only a small part.

    In the context of the XML file format, I have believed for as long as I have been aware of XML (not that long) that common documents are only part of a much larger opportunity to build efficient systems based on open standards. This is described these days as On-Demand or SOA.

    The upshot of this is that the focus on the impact on Microsoft is distracting from the larger and more critical issue: in this case it is that a State Government IT office is demonstrating their understanding by sharing their vision of this opportunity to reinvent their basic concept and practical implementation of data systems.

    The focus belongs — where MassGov & Peter Quinn’s team have placed it — on fundamentals. Now that they’ve got that right, they’ve set up a win-win.

    As to your questions:

    1) Yes this is an indication of things to come; and

    2) It’s Microsoft’s call now whether they win this account back (a deliberate part of the MassGov strategy and of its disciplined focus on STANDARDS and not VENDORS or PRODUCTS). Their messaging now of cost risks and politics indicates to me their disinclination to give up a chief lever of monopoly control and that they’re going to lose the account but that will be by their own choice. (I agree with you that they could be successful around OpenDocument but they may be blinded by their culture.) They may see the writing on the wall as other states begin to declare for OpenDocument (using Peter Quinn’s team’s very strategy and language) by early next year…or they may not. However, I’m certain it’s Battle-Stations in Redmond right now.

    This will play out for another 18 months. If you’ll please excuse me, I have to call 50 other State CIO’s…starting with the Blue States.

    -Sam Hiser

  3. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for the insight. Everyone needs to write out their “requirements” before visiting with a vendor or purchasing systems and components. Massachusetts clearly studied and followed the EU requirements blueprint of setting interoperability goals based on Open Standards and Open XML technologies. They didn't pick vendors, frameworks, platforms, or systems. They just set the requirements baseline.

    It's interesting to see though that Massachusetts put so much emphasis on SOA. I would have preferred though they stick to the Open Internet as a description of the architectural foundation they know everything will be moving to. But SOA will do. To me SOA is a description of best practices for implementing and using Open Internet protocols, methods, and infrastructure. Especially Open XML technologies. I think SOA and ESB practices will come and go, but the Open Internet will remain as the fundamental basis for universal connectivity-communication and collaborative computing. With my niggling i digress.

    AT OSBC 2005, Jefferey Moore spoke eloquently about how Open Internet protocols and methods are invading everything. He said that today there isn't a single software effort of any significance underway that isn't based on Open Internet protocols and methods. The CTO of AT&T has said that, “IP (Internet Protocols) are eating everything”. When people argue about frameworks like Java and .NET, they are really arguing about which approach makes the best use of the Open Internet. The same for applications and integrated software stacks.

    I think in this regard Massachusetts has really pushed the EU requirements blueprint forward. Way forward! Whether you're an individual, an SMB, or a global enterprise, the MASS requirements process is the white paper you need to study. When people ask me about moving their information and information processes to an Open Internet foundation, i offer them a simplified requirements formula, and then try to point them to the EU work. No mass. From now on it's my rule of thumb advice and onto the Massachusetts requirements doc.

    The quick advice is for anyone making the move the Open Internet to seek out and demand products and services supporting Open Standards that are both open and enduring, as in “future proofed”. The Open Standards requirement can further be broken down into some important categories like: Open Interfaces, Open Messaging and Communications protocols, Open Run Time Engines and Portable Component Libraries, and Open XML Technologies (including file formats).

    It's interesting to note that Open Source Communities produce efforts that are absolutely extraordinary when it comes to open interoperability. No proprietary model comes close to the Open Interfaces one finds so commonplace with Open Source efforts.

    I would also argue that Open Source efforts are all participants in and contenders for Open Standards in some way or another. For FLOSS, Open Standards are like oxygen. And the Open Internet a heart & lung breath free or die core of this profound ecosystem.

    One thing i've noticed is that Massachusetts was very concerned about future proofing. We've never had this problem before of having to worry about our Open Standards being future proofed and protected. But we have to worry about that now. And we need solutions that go beyond the EU concerns that Open Standards be housed by recognized Open Standards groups like OASIS, ISO, and the W3C. The problem is that the predators have gotten into one of the chicken coops, and are wrecking havoc. Things have changed. No Open Standard is safe unless it's specifically licensed to be open and enduring (as in beyond corruption).

    The Open Internet snuck up on Microsoft, and achieved critical mass before the predator could work their tried and true “embrace, extend, extinguish” business practice on Open Internet protocols and methods. Not that they didn't try. The all out whatever it takes effort to crush Netscape and Java, and getting themselves into a position to embrace, extend and corrupt HTML, HTTP, and the JVM was a herculean effort that for a time put MS on a corporate death row awaiting execution.

    Things have changed though since those heady days when Netscape and Sun took the brunt of Chairman Bill's want and wrath. Yes, the Open Internet survived. But for how long? Nothing has been done to secure core protocols and methods. As often as i rant and rave about it, Sir Timothy has yet to GPL XML – which would put an end to all the nonsense.

    OpenOffice.org and Mozilla have finally established that foothold on the Windows turf that cost Netscape their life, and has Sun on life support. In response to this new invasion of open source efforts, Microsoft has shifted tactics. Lacking a corporate competitor susceptible to the ruthless persuasions of having their oxygen cut off, Microsoft has launched many new initiatives aimed exactly at the patents, permissions, royalty fees, licensing restrictions and other encumbrances, all masquerading as “Open Standards”, that will slowly kill Open Source. And leave the Open Internet quite vulnerable.

    So we have this new problem of protecting Open Standards. A problem not missed by either the EU or Massachusetts. It's no longer enough that we can reach mass agreement concerning the things we must all share in if our digital civilization is to move forward, continuing the open, no barriers to participation model that makes the Open Internet the rare beauty that it is. Now we need to find ways of protecting Open Standards from predators who are quite practiced in the deceitful art of “embrace, extend, and extinguish”.

    The predators have struck first in this battle.

    Yes, there is the obvious onslaught against the GPL. The GPL is enduring in that it insists that everyone who makes use of the code, including predators, must not under any circumstances remove any of the rights for future users that they themselves were granted. To me the GPL is the great litmus test. You can tell friend from foe just by finding out how they feel about the GPL. If their intentions are good, the GPL isn't a problem. If their intentions are bad, they will try to move heaven and earth to destroy the GPL.

    The predators have also hit the USPTO “patent office”. Microsoft can't own XML, the next generation Open Internet API, so they try to own how XML can be used.

    The heaviest blow though came when a gang of predators lead by Microsoft tried to get the W3C to change their licensing model to allow for Open Standards that include patents, restrictive licenses, royalty fees, and other encumbrances. In short, this was an effort to corrupt the Open Internet Standards process without Open Internet users becoming aware of the end game strategy.

    Sir Timothy stood tall at the W3C and the predators were summarily rebuffed. No problemo though. The forum shopping came to not much more of a problem than walking across the street, where they found a willing accomplice in OASIS.

    Interesting time line here. In September of 2004, the OASIS OpenDocument TC finished with the inclusion of XForms, SVG, and SMiL – all of which were important to the EU. By November of 2004, the EU requirements for Open Standards and Open XML file formats had kicked into the purchase cycle. It took less than 20 days for Microsoft to concede, and they quickly worked out an agreement with the EU promising that they would develop (with Sun) XML transformation “filters” to transparently convert MSXML to OpenDoc XML and back. MS also promised the EU that in the future they would provide an Open XML file format governed by a recognized Open Standards Group. Neither the filters nor the submission have yet to appear.

    But i do expect to see in the near future an OASIS Open XML file format TC based on MSXML. All the roadblocks have been removed. It's clear sailing for MS.

    By February of 2005, the gang of predators were busy crafting the new OASIS IPR licenses. The effort wasn't publicly disclosed until April of 2005, but there is no doubt in my mind that the new license model is more than just a coup seizing control of OASIS Open Standards work, and ending it. The predators were doing everything they could to make sure that there wouldn't be any future EU situations. Some call this cutting off the exits.

    The OASIS OpenDocument XML standard is today the only OASIS effort that can be said to be open and future proofed. And we owe that to Sun's prescient precaution. Every other OASIS effort is at risk due to the fact that under the new OASIS IPR, with a simple majority vote of the TC to amend the charter, a license can be changed from open to reasonably restricted and encumbered, or further to unreasonably restricted, patent loaded, royalty ladened, and encumbered. A simple majority vote is all it takes. The change can occur at any time. Nothing is safe at OASIS.

    It is only in this context that we can see clearly how difficult the Massachusetts decision must have been. Open Standards are under assault. Open XML technologies are under siege. And seizing control of the Open Internet is end game. Like the minute men of old, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stood their ground and fired off a shot that will no doubt be heard round the world. Maybe even the next 50 will listen.

    In all the noise i heard today, there was little recognition of the incredible role Sun has played in pushing the OpenDoc XML forward, and defending the Open Internet at every turn. Sun has a near 25 year history of faithfully promoting and defending Open Standards. They have opposed the gang of predators at every turn. And it was their prescient precaution in dealing with OASIS that saved OpenDoc XML from a takeover from within. (How did they know OASIS was susceptible?) I also think that it is because of their time tested belief in Open Standards that so many companies are today building solutions based on both Java and OpenOffice.org components. Maybe the stockholders wish Sun were more of a predator? I hope in the long run though that this triumph of Open Standards and Open XML in Massachusetts works out well for Sun. Much as i disagree with their business plans, or lack there of, when it comes to the Open Internet they deserve far more credit than their getting.

    The Open Internet is the Computer. Go get the the next 50,

    Note to Sir Tim: Put a stop to the maddening feeding frenzy. GPL XML.

  4. I have some additional comments about OpenDocument here, titled "Why OpenDocument Won", here:

  5. Hi David,

    Would you be so kind as to post that URL again? I’m looking forward to reading your analysis, but the link appears to be broken.


  6. here's the good link, Gary, and thx for submitting it, David:

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