“Over the last six months I’ve received email from all manner of folks from all over the world relating to ODF. In virtually all instances, the senders were ODF proponents, many asking how they can help, or offering their personal experiences or thoughts. I’ve also received email from, and gotten to know, many of the other journalists and bloggers following the issue, as well as the principal vendor advocates, and some of the community of the disabled that have voiced concern, as well. Early last week, I received an email from closer to home, with a ‘subject’ line that read, “Maybe it’s time we talk…” I was happy to get the email, because the sender was none other than Alan Cote, the Massachusetts Supervisor of Records.”
Interview: Mass. Records Supervisor Alan Cote About ODF
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2006-02-06 3:38 pmMightyPenguin
Are you middle management?!
First off, even if Sun falls on it’s face and no longer supports OpenOffice. You’ll still have OpenOffice which is basically just as good without some proprietary Font tech and a couple other things. This will go on with or without Sun. Second, the trend is obviously up for ODF adoption, or rather, adoption of client software that supports it. Look at kword for example.
“Every project needs naysayers” I understand what you’re trying to say, but that’s not the best way to say it
Do I know that ODF or some child of it will be around in 10-15 years? Yes I do.
The main problem with ODF adoption is almost entirely perception. If IBM and HP joined Sun in supporting it then I’d say perception was the only problem.
2006-02-06 4:15 pmkiz01
No I’m not middle management (and am little embarrassed if I sound like I am) but I am a realist. The reason I made the comment about Star Office is that it’s the only commercial software package out there (that I’m aware of) that supports ODF. For MA, that may be their only choice unless some other commercial vendors step up to the plate. I doubt they’ll be rolling out word processors that aren’t backed with support contracts.
As for my personal feelings: I SO want this to succeed. Open standards will free the consumer from its dependence on software vendors. I want to pick my apps based on features not on whether or not it can read my files. It’s an exciting prospect but it’s not a sure thing, not yet.
2006-02-06 5:22 pmSean Parsons
Sun may be the only vendor of a commercial application that supports ODF (a temporary situation), but there is nothing stopping other companies from providing commercial support for nonproprietary applications such as OOo and KOffice. People need to stop thinking that an application needs to have some secret source code sprinkled in to obtain technical support.
2006-02-06 4:00 pmFeneric
I think you’re missing some key points:
ODF, by its very nature, even in the unlikely event that it turns out to be a passing fad, cannot become unreadable. That’s the key advantage of being an open format. Even if all commercial shops currently supporting ODF were to go out of business tomorrow, it would still be possible to write ODF processors and thus read ODF data. Proprietary closed formats on the other hand can become unreadable if the commercial companies supporting them go out of business or even just decide to end support.
The second point is that it’s not really a case of ODF versus DOC, no matter how it’s getting played up on various blogs. The big move by Massachusetts was to require storage formats to be open. ODF is just one such format; PDF is another. This list is hardly exclusive though, and things like XHTML, Open E-Book, DocBook, Newton Book, etc. also quite probably fit the bill.
The third point is that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hardly made this move lightly, and various parts of the state have already changed. My home town of Saugus (see http://www.saugus.net/ ) made the commitment to open formats years ago and suffered no ill effects. I personally wrote a bit about Saugus’ reaction to the official Commonwealth change on the Saugus blog at http://community.livejournal.com/saugus/4324.html , but I’m sure you’ll find other references to Saugus and open formats if you look around. Saugus was also not the only Massachusetts community to switch prior to the Commonwealth itself (although it may be the most visible). If you look a little deeper you will find more. The key thing is that Massachusetts tested the water with its feet before preparing to jump in…
The fourth point is that it’s no more of a risk switching from DOC to ODF than it is switching from DOC to DOCX. It’s also not more expensive. In fact, so far all the analysis performed by the Commonwealth suggests that it’s less expensive and will require less training.
Basically the move to open formats has yet to have any real technical downsides presented for it. The primary arguments against it have been “touchy-feely” ones or “fear of the unknown” ones, but neither of these types of arguments really holds when it can be shown that other organizations have already made the jump without experiencing real issues. The only thing that even remotely sounds real on the surface is the accessibility argument, but that seems to fall to pieces when examined closely, and no one from the accessibility office has yet tried to explain why an open XML format that can be converted to pretty much anything else via simple XSLT style sheets is supposedly inaccessible; they’re really just stating that “there might be problems” at this point, and that comes down to another “fear of the unknown” sort of complaint.
Technologists often underestimate the complexity of bureacracies. What happened here isn’t really a technology problem. It’s a human problem: The geeks tried to ram through a tech change without involving the critical players. That created tremendous resistence from the bureacracy. Geeks need to understand that politics is, in many ways, the more difficult aspect of technology deployment. You can’t do one without the other. Even if users’ ultimate concerns weren’t that significant, that doesn’t mean you can ignore them. It will take a lot of bridge-building to heal the rift that’s been created.
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The article was a little biased (and I would have prefered a didactic dialogue between Alan and Andy) but over all a very good article. This is the first time that I’ve heard about a reason for the ODF opposition other than Microsoft lobbyists pulling government strings.
Alan’s seperation of information from technology is something that I frequently see where I work (I work in a professional environment dominated my middle aged professionals). I can discuss ways of creating paperless systems with my coworkers and get looks like as if I have three heads. The fact that electronic records are more easily accesible from multiple points and is easily searchable is something that they realize is an advantage when it is explained to them, but they are still adverse to change.
Alan’s willingness to save these documents in multiple formats (including printed format) is the same type of scenario. One open format that the government can never be locked out of should provide a lot of incentive for conversion.
One other thing I would like to address about the article is it’s comparison to the govenmnet purchasing the first telephone for $50,000. The government is not the first adopter, and there already are multiple points for ODF support. Early adopters are no longer just college students and geeks; many small and mid-sized businesses are already using ODF (I recommended it myself to a couple of startups). It is even getting attention from larger businesses, and it is only a matter of time until we see people exchanging more information in ODF. Early adopters of ODF discussed community support for an open format, but big business and government both have large corporations that they can depend on for support with companies backing it like Sun and IBM. Another advantage of the ODF is that there is nothing preventing HP, Red Hat, Novell, or anyone else from rolling out competitive ODF support contracts.
Hopefully technology can overcome this ‘generation’ gap and continue to become more open.
Alan Cote indeed has some very good points. What if ODF turns out to be a passing fad? Does anybody really know if it will be around in 10 or 15 years? That will hinge on whether or not ODF can keep itself a relevant standard and whether or not other companies/institutions standardize on it.
Although many of us (including myself) are hopeful, how many of us are puting our money where our mouths are? MA will be spending a lot of money of conversion, training, and possibly software licenses (depending on what software they decide to use). This is serious amounts of money and, while we can argue that it will save money in the long run, that depends on whether ODF is around in the long run. While I give ODF moral support, I haven’t spent any time coding for it or any money supporting it (buying Star Office for example). MA is making a large and possibly painful policy change and while I applaud them for it, it would be silly to assume there’s no risk involved.
Every project needs naysayers. They tend to bring up issues and possible problems that may have been overlooked. They may not always be right, but it’s much better to pay attention to them early in the project than to get bitten by an issue that, in the excitement of rolling out new technology, was somehow missed.
I’m not saying that MA shouldn’t standardize on ODF, I’m saying that they need to be listening to the Alan Cotes out there and make sure any issue are dealt with as much as possible.