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November 30, 2005

IBM joins Sun in encouraging Massachusetts to stick to its guns

IBM Corp has joined Sun Microsystems Inc in recommending that the State of Massachusetts use caution in evaluating Microsoft Corp's submission of the Office Open XML Formats to the Ecma International standards body.

By CBR Staff Writer

Robert Sutor, IBM’s vice president of standards and open source, has written to Massachusetts’s secretary of administration and finance, Thomas Trimarco, to reaffirm IBM’s support for the OpenDocument Format that Massachusetts chose in September to become the standard for all state office documents by January 2007.

In ODF, I believe that the Commonwealth made a wise choice in going with a specification that matured in a transparent way under the technical guidance of a community of a broad range of experts. I believe that it is important that you apply this same criteria to any additional standards you decide to develop, wrote Sutor.

The letter does not actually make mention of the Office Open XML Formats that Microsoft recently announced will be submitted to Ecma for consideration as a standard, but the inference is clear.

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, he added. Within Oasis, ODF was both developed and will be maintained in an open fashion by multiple stakeholders.

While Office Open XML will be submitted to Ecma with the support of Apple Computer, Intel, NextPage, Toshiba, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, and Statoil, clearly Microsoft was responsible for its development, and it remains to be seen how much of a forum Ecma will provide for the specifications to be modified.

It is also not altogether clear whether the license for the specifications will enable them to be implemented by open source software. The covenant not to sue users of the formats has been endorsed by Larry Rosen, attorney and former general counsel of the Open Source Initiative.

Sun’s chief open source officer, Simon Phipps, has expressed his doubts as to whether Microsoft’s reference to conforming implementations is implementable under the terms of the GNU General Public License, however.

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Last week the office of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney indicated that it was optimistic Microsoft’s plans for the Office Open specifications would meet its standards requirements, prompting Sun’s director of corporate standards, Carl Cargill, to write to Trimarco encouraging Massachusetts not take a decision on Microsoft’s formats until they have been officially approved by a standards body.

While Microsoft has promised to eventually submit Office 12 to a standards body, the Commonwealth must act on existing standards to best serve its future needs for document exchange, he wrote. Only after a specification has been approved by a broadly supported standards bodyshould the Commonwealth consider including that open standard as one of its own.

Massachusetts’s decision to select the OpenDocument Format has become the center of an ongoing political debate that has included a Massachusetts Senate Committee hearing, proposed changes to the Massachusetts Information Technology Division’s decision making powers, and investigation into the actions of State CIO, Peter Quinn.

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