“While the move to ODF seems to offer clear benefits to the Massachusetts government and citizens in general, a move to ODF and a change in office application has significant accessibility implications for people with disabilities. Today people with disabilities are predominantly on the Microsoft Windows desktop. The proportion on Windows increases further when you look at employees of the Executive Branch of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. When it comes to the move to ODF for people with disabilities, there are two basic questions to ask.” UPDATE: ODF turned into nothing but a forgotton political football in the Massachusetts Senate today when Senator William Morrissey pulled his own amendment to S 2256 and replaced it with something even worse.
Massachusetts, OpenDocument, and Accessibility
About The Author
Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda
2005-11-17 12:44 amSabon
No. Converters aren’t good enough. You have to be able to set the software to save-as in a particular format by default. Until they do that, it isn’t enough.
2005-11-17 1:33 amrattaro
>No. Converters aren’t good enough. You have to be able to set the software to save-as in a particular format by default.
Why? I don’t get the reasoning.
I’ll admit that Solaris and (even more so) Linux both lag a little behind MS-Windows in terms of accessibility when one considers the whole platform. However, MS-Windows’ big advantage is the add-on package JAWS. When this is removed from the equation, the differences are much smaller. What’s more, out-of-box, modern versions of Mac OS X has better accessibility than any of the above.
There’s zero reason why an open format should have worse accessibility unless a particular manufacturer (such as Microsoft) chooses to make it so.
Places within Massachusetts have already switched and suffered no ill effects. Search http://www.saugus.net/ to see how one leading Massachusetts community started using open formats years ago without suffering any ill effects or making the site less accessible.
Why? I don’t get the reasoning.
The mind is willing but the flesh is weak.
People are lazy, greedy, and stupid.
Especially Americans… 😛
The pro ODF Executive is Republican and the anti-ODF legislature is about 80% Democratic. Gov. Romney hates MS with a passion. One of the first things he did when he came to office was to have people write code for official stuff in Java instead of C# for portability.
2005-11-17 5:23 amMamiyaOtaru
“The pro ODF Executive is Republican and the anti-ODF legislature is about 80% Democratic”
No.. Noooo *explodes*
This defies all our preconceptions!
Kidding really, though it is a bit backwards from what one might expect (at least in light of the prevailing talk. Well, now we are back to preconceptions)
2005-11-17 1:11 pmdylansmrjones
Well, writing for Java is a good thing. Especially due to portability.
I understand one of Americas most forward thinking, intelligent, and progressive Presidents of the past century was, funnily enough, Nixon. It’s odd that he’s largely remembered for what others did, such as the Watergate scandal and China opening its doors to the world, and his own achievements are all but forgotten, even if their legacy lives on.
2005-11-17 7:08 amBrad
Yes, tis a trend with US presidents. Good ones get shot (Lincoln, Kennedy), or have their good over shadowed by a screw up (Nixon, Clinton). Some how the really bad ones make it through without much issue (Reagan, G W Bush (well, had a run for about 4.5 years)).
Nixon was the last true/real/sane republican.
Anyway, Only if you think ODF is a great thing do you see this as good and evil backwards.
If you think that the move to ODF was a bad idea, you see this as Good winning over evil.
Politics should not decide technological choices. Technology should be chosen purely on merit, not on the whim of a politican.
>The pro ODF Executive is Republican and the anti-ODF >legislature is about 80% Democratic. Gov. Romney hates >MS with a passion. One of the first things he did when >he came to office was to have people write code for >official stuff in Java instead of C# for portability.
2005-11-17 7:45 amBryan
The problem with that stance is that this clearly is a political issue as well as a technical one. By excluding MS Office formats, the Massechusetts governments will significantly disrupt the workflow of their many departments as well as their contracters, since they’ll have to reconfigure their IT infrastructure when they shoud be doing work. Massechusetts decsion seems completely oblivious to the huge established installation of Office. The fact of the matter is that many of these constituents may have significant dependencies on Office; it may be as simple as a handfull of macro scripts, or it may be a full-blown word plugin. Getting rid of these dependencies may well be a costly burden. While having the option to move to OpenOffice is a good thing, I believe that each of the departments and contractors need to have some greater say in setting the time tables for that transition, so they can take into account their particular barriers.
I believe the Mass. CIO did a comendable thing by recognizing the need to guarantee public access to government documents, but I think his ultimate decision was a poor one. Microsoft has said that they will offer the office formats under royalty-free licensing; the suggestion that they may one day suddenly decided to do an about face and essentially hold public records for ransom seems as much FUD as anything Microsoft has said in derision of ODF. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I think the ideal thing to do would be to mandate that all documents printed on public government websites be published in PDF, ODF, and Microsoft Office formats. Then, set a deadline for every department to come up with a reasonable plan for accomodating ODF in their IT environment, so that contractors and citizens can send ODF documents to government agencies confident that they’ll be legible.
I think ODF has an important place in the future, but I disagree with the draconian way it’s being introduced in Massechusetts; there needs to be a more carefully orchestrated phase in. OpenOffice and StarOffice are strong products–they don’t need to be forced down anyone’s throat.
Edited 2005-11-17 07:46
2005-11-17 9:42 amhal2k1
“By excluding MS Office formats, the Massechusetts governments will …”
MA government did not eclude MS Office, Microsoft did.
Microsoft were even on the comittee that came up with openDocument in the first place.
“Microsoft has said that they will offer the office formats under royalty-free licensing”
Royalty free is not open. Open means “anyone can implement”. Microsoft explicitly DID NOT offer that for their format. Microsoft explicitly EXCLUDE and PROHIBIT certain types of competing software.
MA explicitly said they wanted an open format – an “anyone can implement” format.
“but I disagree with the draconian way it’s being introduced in Massechusetts”
What could be less draconian than OpenDocument “anyone may implement, even Microsoft” compared with Microsofts totally draconian “you people may not compete with my product”?
You have it 180 degrees about. Completely and utterly the wrong way around.
2005-11-17 9:48 amhal2k1
“The fact of the matter is that many of these constituents may have significant dependencies on Office; it may be as simple as a handfull of macro scripts, or it may be a full-blown word plugin. Getting rid of these dependencies may well be a costly burden.”
Not nearly as expensive as any move to MS Office12 would be.
Not by a long, long way.
When politicians start exposing themselves and challenging each other to pissing contests over open standards in file formats, everybody else gathers around to watch them make fools of themselves. In end, the American governments (at all levels) and governments abroad will gain a better understanding of open standards and how to properly dodge the political minefields between here and there.
ODF will soon find its place in the minds of the people as one of the acronyms that American politicians mishandled (along with WMD, CAFTA, DMCA, INDUCE… )
Why are politicians even getting involved with this? it isn’t the job of politicians to interfer with the day to day running of government departments; and lord knows what the motivations are.
Quite frankly, I would be very interested, if I was governor, to request an inquiry into the background and links that the senator has to the software industry and those whom he has been talking to – and if the need arises to bring sceletons out of the closet, then so be it.
If the senator has no alterior motive, then he has nothing to hide, and would welcome the investigation.
2005-11-17 11:15 amnii_
“Why are politicians even getting involved with this? it isn’t the job of politicians to interfer with the day to day running of government departments; and lord knows what the motivations are.“
Well, regarding the economic stimulus bill called S 2256, “The amendment was intended to remove essentially all IT policy power from those that are in a position to recommend it best – the Commonwealth’s own technology agency – and convey it to a “task force” of political appointees.“, I think this gives some of the answers.
One source of power (a private interest) didn’t seem to be happy that informed and experienced decisions were being made by the Commonwealth’s technology agency and so decided to have the power shifted to a body that can be manipulated much more easily. A body that can make ‘political’ decisions instead of scientific and informed decisions from experience.
First, the ODF (Open Document Format), aka OpenDocument is a freely available standard for storing documents, and furthermore can be implemented by anyone.
What that means is that if any company so chooses, it may save and load documents in this standard format. Microsoft of course may choose to implement in its software the way to save and load Documents in this format if it chooses.
The next thing to note is that there are already a number of applications that can load and save in this format:
* Adobe (Framemaker, Distiller)
* Arbortext (Arbortext Enterprise Publishing System)
* Corel (WordPerfect)
* IBM (Lotus 1-2-3, Workplace)
* KDE (KOffice)
* SpeedLegal (SmartPrecedent) / Exari
* OpenOffice.org (OpenOffice)
* Sun Microsystems (StarOffice)
There is nothing stopping Mircosoft from joining in.
2005-11-17 2:30 pmunoengborg
Where have you got that list?
Last time I heard something from Corel, they only promised that they would provide it in some distant future if their customers demanded it.
2005-11-18 3:24 pmAnonymous
corel does not support odf. they probably never thought it would be important. they probably also dont want to piss off microsoft. right now, the only reason they have a viable office suit is MS office compatibilty, which microsoft can, and probably will, take away from them the second they even muse such ideas.
corel needs microsofts favor, microsoft only lets them continue to exist…
note, apples not exactly throwing thier weight behind ODF either, and they have no reason not to. except that microsoft can, and probably will, take away the mac version, without which, apple is dead. they cancelled IE for mac since safari.
there are many other companies whom microsoft can simply crush at will. and that include almost all software companies.
even if your not a software company, the threat of a BSA witchhunt will put many bussinesses back in line.
this is why ODF will mostly come from free sources, and the rare software company that does not depend on microsoft for thier existance.
and all of this is true for only one reason. we gave them that power. we all stand against them, and they will no longer have that power over us.
if, over the course of a month or six, enough software vendors, major corps, individual users, and govts all said they wanted to standardize on ODF, MS would be forced to support it.
MS knows this. thats the point of palladium (that and the convinent control of channels of distribution for them and the media industries)
Does anyone have links to the studies that were completed to analyze the cost of converting to ODF versus upgrading MS Office, specifically in the case of Massachusetts? Are MS Access applications being included under the MS Office umbrella even though they don’t use a file format per-se? Has the cost of retraining users, developers, and IT personnel been addressed? What about roll-out and startup costs? What is the cost to state business if different departments upgrade at different points along the given timeline? Are parallel system going to be maintained until the deadline? I find it hard to believe that the cost of moving all of the inevitable customization and automation that has been done in MS Office applications to some other office suite is going to be less than upgrading MS Office. I’m not saying I’m against the spirit of the decision but as a Massachusetts resident I would like to understand how much this is going to cost me.
2005-11-17 2:30 pmAnonymous
Yes, they did all the cost analysis well before making the switch. They factored in not only the training etc. (which actually applies in both cases as the drones who use the current version of MS-Office by rote have to be retrained for the new version, too, as the interface has significantly changed) but also the cost of upgrading a huge number of desktops (not required for OpenDocument, required for the new version of MS-Office) and licensing (again, required only for the new version of MS-Office). In the end upgrading MS-Office was more expensive. Plus, there are already use cases of communities in Massachusetts that have shown that the switch to OpenOffice is less expensive than the upgrade of MS-Office.
There are a million links covering this that have already been shown here on OS News, on Slashdot, on Groklaw, etc. They’re easy enough to pull up with Google, and you can also readily find them by browsing through the Commonwealth site (I forget the IT department’s URL, but the top level is http://www.state.ma.us/ and is easy enough to remember). The key thing here is that this decision was not made lightly. It was made primarily for reasons of document preservation, but it was subsequently discovered that it would save money, too. The point though is that even if it didn’t save money, it would still be the proper way for the Commonwealth to go as they need to guarantee future accessibility of their documents.
2005-11-17 9:56 pmAnonymous
“I find it hard to believe that the cost of moving all of the inevitable customization and automation that has been done in MS Office applications to some other office suite is going to be less than upgrading MS Office.”
Upgrading MS Office carries considerable expense including customization and automation.
For example, I currently have Office 2003 installed at work, except for MS Access which is Access 97 SP2.
The reason? Access 2003 is not compatible.
Even then, with Access 97 SP2 installed along with all the other components of Office 2003 – I still get corruptions of databases created originally in Office 97 (the complete suite).
MS Office is not compatible with earlier versions of itself. Access is one of the worst offenders for this.
On top of going to ODF, ALL states should mandate that if a free alternative exists, then it shall be used. Why spend MY tax $$ on MS software where a free alternative is available? I believe South America and Mexico were attempting to do the same.
While I can’t claim to have done the level of research the author has done, I can say that it is doubtful that MA will see the real message here: Open Source desktop environments offer better accessibility with few exceptions and have superior underlying facilities to plug more features into.
ODF itself implies no issues with accessibility, however. That’s a red herring hooked by the companies opposing ODF. The only thing stopping Microsoft from supporting ODF is Microsoft, it’s just a file format, and an open standard at that.
I do wish he hadn’t concentrated solely on Gnome, however. I find that KDE has an excellent group of software applications for the differently-abled as well. KMouth, KMouseTool, Kmag, Kooka, KTTS, Kruler are good examples of underlying features available to any program that can access the K environment (and some that can’t). That includes KOffice suite of programs and those which interface with Kontact, which I see as perfect for the average person – not so feature-heavy and very responsive – and which support ODF.
Good article. This is the kind of article along with today’s ZFS article, that make it worthwhile coming to OSNews at least once per day, despite what I may think of the moderation system.
so not just use but also support so floss can be used with the same easiness by ppl with disabilities
With the ODF being and open standard, even if the level of accessibility doesn’t yet exist, any company or group can compete to write accessibility software for reading and writing to this format.
Also, I recently heard that atleast one third party is selling a plugin that allows MS Office to read and write to ODF. So problems solved!?