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Next Chapter Opens for Open Formats

When former Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn resigned his post on Jan. 9, it looked like the months-long effort to require open, standards-based file formats in state government might fail. The initiative has drawn strong opposition from Microsoft, which has thousands of copies of Microsoft Office installed on systems in the state government.

In his resignation letter, Quinn cited political pressure and difficult working conditions created by the high-stakes standoff. The conflict hit a low point last Nov. 26, when The Boston Globe published a front-page article detailing a state investigation into improperly managed travel by the CIO. Those allegations were quickly discredited -- Quinn’s manager Eric Kriss approved all the travel -- but the damage was done.

Now it appears the format push could get a second wind, with the appointment of Louis Gutierrez as CIO of the Information Technology Division (ITD) on Feb. 6. A statement released by Massachusetts Administration and Finance Secretary Thomas Trimarco specifically notes that "Gutierrez will be responsible for overseeing the final stages of implementation of the state’s new Open Document format proposal, to go into effect in January 2007."

But even if the state mandates standards-based file formats, it doesn’t mean Microsoft’s goose is cooked. In January, Trimarco’s office lauded an announcement that Microsoft would submit its XML-based Office schema to standards body Ecma International. "If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats," Trimarco said in a statement.

In short, we could end up where we started -- with Microsoft Office firmly ensconced on tens of thousands of government PCs in Massachusetts.

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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