Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Goods News for ODF in Mass. (Despite Delay)

Full implementation of ODF adoption in Massachusetts has, it seems, been delayed six months until June 2007. But this minor slippage in execution is good news, not bad. Why? ODF adoption will begin in January 2007 as planned. And a plugin to allow Microsoft users in the public sector to save in ODF format, as a temporary "fix," will allow a smoother evolution to complete ODF implementation.

And who will be one of the early users of this plugin beginning in January? The Massachusetts Office on Disability. With a more realistic schedule for implementation, it seems clear that Massachusetts is on track for full ODF rollout with the support (even leadership) of the community of users with disabilities.

This is an important development, in both political and technological terms. The implementation schedule is still ambitious and will surely face difficulties. However, it means that a major political obstacle has been cleared. It also means that support and engagement by the disability community will drive further innovations in assistive technologies. It is fair to ask: would this have happened if ODF never arrived on the scene?

Open ICT in Eastern Europe, and a Hint of ODF

There has been speculation about the likelihood that open technologies --- open standards and open source -- will take root in Eastern Europe. I noted before that the ODF Alliance has over 30 members from Eastern European countries. In general Europe is showing leadership in the evolution of open ICT ecosystems, including adoption of open source and the OpenDocument format.

Now there is specific news about open ICT in Eastern Europe, and it comes from Croatia.

The government has announced a broad policy to adopt open source software across the public sector, together with guidelines on the development and procurement of software. Although the "open source" element of the policy is making all the headlines, it is misleading to think that Croatia has issued a requirement that all software be open source. Rather, the government is taking a more balanced approach.

Open source will be preferred over closed source solutions. Closed source software is not shut out entirely. The government intends to support local development of closed source software that meets open standards and, interestingly, open file formats. Schools will present both open and closed software to students, thus equipping them to work and innovate in a world of mixed technologies.

Why the big move in Croatia? Three factors compelled the government:

* Control: The desire to break its dependency on vendors and escape the rigid commercial conditions imposed on them is strong among governments. Freedom from external limitations will allow the government--i.e., the user--to modify, extend or link software as needed. It also creates greater transparency and interoperability not only in terms of its technology but also for public information and services.

* Growth: The importance of promoting innovation and market alternatives in technology cannot be understated. Growth is both an economic and a political issue. Governments seek to build domestic ICT markets, and see open technologies as one strategy to lower market barriers for new innovators.

* Money: Money matters. Open ICT enables more rational distribution of budgets by creating an ecosystem in which there is greater collaboration (and cost sharing) in the development, maintenance, and use of ICT. This helps reduce the total public expenses of providing public services.

And the hint of things to come for ODF in Croatia? Consider what Domagoj Juricic, leader of the Central State Administrative Office's e-Croatia project, said:
The state administration bodies create and exchange a lot of electronic documents. There is a great danger that documents cannot be opened and presented in readable form after a certain time, because we don't have the licence anymore of the proprietary software, or the vendor can seize support of the old types of documents. Therefore we require the state administration bodies to use open standards for creating electronic documents.
Do I hear the sound of ODF knocking on the door in Croatia?

Open policies are an important step, but policies are only paper. Translating these policies into actual procurement will be key to actually changing how services, technology and people act.

A side note: Sam Hiser, who predicted an ODF move in Croatia, is well positioned to take the silver medal for ODF predictions. (I had guessed a possible move in Malaysia who announced official consideration of ODF in July.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

ODF Delayed in Massachusetts?

The State of Massachusetts will release its mid-term assessment of OpenDocument. Apparently, recent discussions with disability rights groups have had an impact.

As blogged here previously, the issue of how ODF will affect accessability by people with disabilities is a political deal-breaker for ODF, not just in Massachusetts but for all levels of governments in the U.S.

At least one news source is reporting that CIO Louis Gutierrez will announce a delay in the scheduled January 1, 2007 implementation of ODF until an adequate plug-in can be developed.

One other notable news on open standards:

* Open Standards & RAND: In case you doubted my previous objections to the use of "reasonable and non-discriminatory" (or RAND) as a sound element of open standards, look no further than this story. In a legal battle between Nokia and Qualcomm, the fight is over the meaning of RAND. To repeat my view on this: RAND is not an objective standard and will only generate endless litigation. It is something only lawyers could love. It should not be part of any definition of an open standard.