• United States

Massachusetts has a new CIO, fate of its OpenDocument up in the air

Jan 12, 20062 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinux

* Commonwealth of Massachusetts appoints acting CIO

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a new, albeit temporary, top technology executive. Bethann Pepoli was appointed acting CIO last week, replacing Peter Quinn, who stepped down last month. Quinn drew national attention and stirred controversy within the Massachusetts government and among major IT vendors when his office outlined a plan to move away from proprietary document formats and adopt the XML-based OpenDocument file format for all state records.

Quinn said his resignation is the result of pressure put on him regarding the OpenDocument controversy, including state legislative hearings questioning the move to OpenDocument and an article in a local newspaper scrutinizing his business travel to technical conferences. (It was later reported there was no wrongdoing on Quinn’s part regarding his attendance of out-of-state IT conferences.)

Microsoft also came out strongly against the commonwealth’s strategy for moving to OpenDocument. The vendor said Quinn’s office was being “discriminatory” against Microsoft Office in its decision to move away from proprietary file formats. But Microsoft itself appeared to be influenced by Massachusetts’ stance, as the company subsequently announced its support for XML-based file formats.

The idea of the commonwealth’s OpenDocument plan was simple and sensible: the state should store its digital records in a format that is open and readable in the far-flung future. If Microsoft ever goes out of business, and its Office software becomes a scarce relic, state records could still be accessed easily, the logic goes.

The commonwealth’s proposal to move off proprietary software could be seen as more of a bargaining tactic with Microsoft, in order to push the company to speed up its adoption of open file formats, as opposed to an ideological shift from closed to open systems. (The cost of a taxpayer-funded state-wide swap-out of desktop software, and the issue of computer accessibility for the disabled – which is strongly tied to Microsoft products in Massachusetts – were potential show-stopping issues for the OpenDocument push.) Ultimately, the can of worms opened up by Quinn’s OpenDocument strategy may also prove too messy for Pepoli to clean up as well.