One of the biggest scams on the Internet is the deception that Massachusetts state government is an early adopter "Open Standards" state. An otherwise good March 14, 2008 InfoWorld story about the Microsoft (MSFT) Office Open XML [OOXML] software developers kit by senior editor Ephraim Schwartz reminds me that knocking down the story is a never-ending task. Schwartz, despite reporting in his own magazine to the contrary, apparently reflexively repeats the conventional wisdom that Massachusetts has "already made (its) decision in favor of Open Document Format [ODF]."
Surprisingly to me, when I asked him to check his sources, he cited two-year-old techtarget and CBR stories rather than his own reporter. Even if he corrects his story, as he should, it has been syndicated a dozen times over the weekend and repeated a hundred times by the anti-Microsoft blogoblatherers. The deception continues to spread.
So, one more time: Massachusetts has not made a "decision in favor of ODF." It's not true today. It never was true.
Here's what really happened (check the documents themselves at the links provided if you prefer):
1. In 2005, one department in one part of one branch of the Massachusetts government--called the Information Technology Division [ITD]--issued, possibly illegally, a document which said that the state would only use documents produced in the following four "standard" formats: HTTP, ODF, Adobe PDF (it was not an ISO standard at the time) and TXT. Separately ITD said this policy would go into effect beginning in 2007.
2. The multiple-year process that led up to this four-format (not ODF-format) proposal began in 2002 with a study most likely orchestrated by ITD and conducted by IBM (IBM) for an advisory commission that included a Sun (JAVA) employee but no Microsoft employee. Sun is the inventor of ODF; IBM uses ODF in one of its less popular Lotus products. Microsoft was a major supplier of technology to the state at the time and should have been included on the commission (or all vendors should have been barred).
3. Almost immediately after the ITD mandate was released, a Massachusetts legislative committee intervened informally to stop the ITD four-format mandate from being adopted. In July 2006, this same legislative committee formally issued a report entitled Open Source, Closed Government. (Note: the committee accurately describes the difference between open source terms and conditions and Open Standards in its report. I do not know why it chose to title its report as it did.)
The legislative committee found that a few state officials in ITD:
-- Ignored processes relative to government transparency (for example, issuing the offending policy for public comment a few days before the summer-ending long Labor Day holiday and making it final a few days after that holiday, decreasing the public comment period dramatically)
-- Ignored the comments and positions of many other effected departments and branches in state government (particularly those responsible for state records),
-- Ignored for three years legislative demands for cost/benefit analyzes, taking into account total cost of ownership, of the implications of implementing only the four formats to the exclusion of the Microsoft "standard," and,
— Most disturbing—ignored the legally blind, the hearing disabled, and others that would be unable to deal with state government under the ITD proposal. The proposal would have also caused difficulties for thousands of disabled state employees.
I’d like to think the actions of this legislative committee was democracy at its finest. But you can’t jump to that conclusion (particularly since the committee took more than 2-1/2 years to issue its Open Source/Closed Government report, which gave the Open Standards blogosphere the time needed to spread the deception to which Schwartz fell victim last week). Rather than good government however, it is just as likely that Microsoft simply caught up with IBM's and Sun's five-year headstart in terms of legislative lobbying capabilities.
Whatever the reason, no Open Standards agenda has been foisted on us here in the Bay State. In 2007, Massachusetts added OOXML to the list of "standard" formats in its Open Formats category (as soon as OOXML was accepted by the ECMA International) and in fact now distributes downloaded documents off its website in Microsoft Real Text Format [RTF].
Investors need to care about this because Sun, IBM, Red Hat (RHAT) and others continue to try to achieve via legislation and government edict market position that they are unable to achieve in the free marketplace. Even if you agree with the IBM/Sun/Red-Hat approach (it's not illegal or immoral), you need to build its implications into your investment research models. It adds considerable upfront cost to these companies' sales and marketing efforts with very little promise of return on investment.
I even believe Microsoft is wasting its shareholders' money in fighting IBM, Sun, Red Hat and the others, by either lobbying governments or lobbying so called "international standards groups." My research findings have consistently shown that "official international standards" do not affect the market. The outcry here in Massachusetts by other state employees and the disabled against the overreaching of a few anti-Microsoft staff people in ITD seems to bear that out.