Policy Makers Being Balanced & Reasonable

The Massachusetts revised Enterprise Technical Reference Model 4.0 (ETRM) has been posted. Earlier versions of this document were a MA ETRMfocal point for the industry discussion around openness in document formats. Among other things, the 4.0 version of the ETRM includes the addition of ECMA 376 Office Open XML, and OASIS ODF 1.1. In both cases, the ETRM calls for a move from binary formats to XML-based formats and recommends use of translators to move between formats.

I'd like to point out that the ETRM goes out of its way to drive to the most important issue:


Information that traditionally has been presented in text form is increasingly being enriched through the use of multimedia data types such as graphics, audio and video. The variety of data formats used however raises concerns regarding interoperability and accessibility. Given that XML is the cornerstone of the Commonwealth’s Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) vision of a unified enterprise information environment, it is crucial that the schema used to create XML files meet the open format definition as well. The target state is the ubiquitous use of open formats to capture and store data within applications and in individual data files. - MA ETRM Domain: Information - v 4.0 linked 8/1/2007

The whole point of the promise of XML, and the move to standardization of formats is that the highest order requirement can be met. The State is in control of its data while having the ability to choose the best applications that will meet their solution requirements while taking into account things like value for money.

Now let us jump across the pond for a second. This week also marked an interesting development in Europe.

On July 13, 2007, the German Parliament passed a Resolution (FYI this document is in German.) on open standards that supports Germany Standards Defcompetition and innovation, supports multiple open document format standards, and calls for intellectual property provisions aligned with those of international standards organizations.

It is important to remember that standards are about contributors AND implementers. It is optimal to have innovators bringing technologies into standards organizations - you want to have contributions that lead to quality specs which lead to great implementations. Having IP in a standard spec is in fact a sign that contributors are bringing value technology to the table. If I am not mistaken there are more than 100 years of law built up around standards-setting activities to encourage contribution and implementation while protecting all parties involved.

Finally (sorry - long post), I was recently pointed to an interesting piece of government work around standards in Sweden (FYI this document is in Swedish). This report is titled "The Invisible Infrastructure" and was part of an inquiry through the Swedish legislative system. The report was written by a committee, imageconsisting of politicians, officials and experts and is regulated by inquiry directives provided by the government. The remit of this group was to look into how to speed up the introduction of e-government, enhancing e-government security and to also examine the legal implications of open source software.

They concluded that open standards for documents are a good thing, but do not specify a specific standard nor a specific implementation to achieve this goal. The report also addresses the idea that standards are an important part of promoting interoperability, and that archival of government documents in standardized formats is a good thing. They also conclude that open standards and interfaces should be promoted, not open source software.

In the end, governments who are looking at these issues are coming to the conclusion that implementations should be selected on value for money and the quality of the solution rather than a mandated standard or model of production. Standards have an important role to play, but it is best for the government when they shoot for neutral principles that address their real needs.


Links to people talking about MA ETRM today:

Andy Updegrove, Stephen McGibbon, Doug Mahugh,

More blogs:

ACT Online, Pranav Wagh, Sam Hiser,

Comments (15)
  1. Just came to know that Commonwealth of Massachusetts included Open XML as an acceptable document format

  2. Ghibertii says:

    Certainly doesn’t hurt that the MS lobbying machine helped pushed this one through….not sure how you interpret that as being reasonable and balanced?

  3. Dont be cynical, please says:

    …or if you prefer, don’t behave like a "villanous boil-brained vassal" of your employer: (hey, the Shakespeare insutl kit is great and fun, serious 😀 )


    You know as well as many of us that perpetuating Microsoft’s lock-in in the document formats is by no means balanced or reasonable, and it is totally against consumer choice.

    Microsoft should have included odf support in its office software offerings, instead of chosing these dismal maneovers in Massachussets and at the ISO commitees all around the world that are garnering so much hatred and disrespect against it and its employees.

    These facts speak about Microsoft and some of its employees much louder than your words.

    So all this is about killing any way out of MSFT’s lock-in for your customers, it is about forcing them to use your products once and again.

    This is exactly what Microsoft is doing here. We know it, no matter how you try to cynically paint it: MSOOXML is a pig, and it does not fly.

  4. jasonmatusow says:

    "Don’t be cynical" – thank you, you just made my day. I think that insult tool is one of the best things on the web.

    I don’t agree with your, and other commenters on this blog, conclusion about the MS strategy for Open XML has been. We agree that document formats should be open. Let me say it again. Microsoft agrees with you that document formats should be open – we started working on an open, XML-based format, around 1998. The fact that there are differences in approach to the work on ODF and the work on Open XML is NOT a bad thing.

    This is to say nothing of the realities of software development cycles and the investments that companies make to bring product to market. So easy to dismiss in a blog posting, but really different when you are looking at the line items for dev teams etc. etc.

    It is equally easy in a blog comment to be dismissive of the realities of backwards compatibility.

    ODF to Open XML interop is a commitment we have made, and is something we are investing in. The translator projects work, are being adopted, and that is a good thing.

    As for our work around the world on Open XML, there are thousands of companies who are voicing their support of our work. We are engaged in collaborative discussions not only about the spec, but in working with ISVs who are making independent implementations.

    I understand that you want to see ODF succeed over Open XML -and that is the nature of competition – but looking at the fact that Microsoft has opened its core file format, has put it under the OSP, has released the documentation for past binary formats, are funding the translator projects, etc. etc. etc – hard to call that a lock-in strategy. We are interested in selling more Microsoft Office – but that has to be based on the value of the product not on whether or not the document format is open or closed.



  5. I’m not sure I quite understand what changed here — is the state government moving towards open formats, or away from them?

  6. jasonmatusow says:

    P –

    The State makes it clear in the ETRM policy that they are moving towards open formats. They have a stated goal of moving all documents to open formats. All the discussion out there is around which open formats.

    The discussion online focuses on ODF and Open XML – and I think it is a shame that is where people get stuck. There are going to be dozens of open formats. Adobe is moving in this direction for PDF, and the vertical industry folks (people who produce insurance software, manufacturing software, health care software, etc.) are also doing the same. There is a myopia around ODF because of product competition motiviations, and that is unfortunate.

    MA did the right thing – they are focusing on the broader objective in the policy statement, and then opening the door for consideration of all technical solutions to acheive that goal. This is not making the hard core ODF crowd very happy becuase it was looking like they were going to have a hard prefernece in their favor.

    My feeling is that hard preferences are bad news…period. I would not want to see a hard prefernce for my company’s product, nor for a standardized format that we use.

    Hope that helps.


  7. Andrew Sayers says:


    To add to Jason’s comment, many of what he calls the "hard core ODF crowd" claim that Office Open XML isn’t a truly open format, for reasons that range from plausible-but-stringent to blatant Microsoft-bashing.  Almost everyone accepts that Office Open XML represents a significant opening up on Microsoft’s part, but without an accepted industry-wide definition of what an open format actually is, there’ll always be some people who want "just one more thing" before they consider a format open.


    About "hard preferences" – this is an argument I find it very hard to understand.  Microsoft Office got where it did today because the market decided it wanted to have a single file format that worked exactly the same on everybody’s computer.  How can you now argue that the market will accept two document formats with a large overlap in use cases, but where perfect conversion from one to the other is impossible?

    – Andrew

  8. jasonmatusow says:

    Andrew –

    Hard prefernces are where a government puts in place a policy that says in order to be interoperable, you must implement standard X. Or, a statement that only product Y can be purchased by the government.

    As for the role of a de facto standard – those can, and have been, extermely potent in the industry. Look at what the Linux kernel is doing in the UNIX OS space. Yes, the MS Office formats were a powerful de facto standard in the marketplace – but that is not the same thing as a hard preference from the government mandating the use of .DOC in order to achieve interoperability.

    Make sense?

  9. Andrew Sayers says:

    Yes, I understand now, thanks.  I’d misunderstood what you meant by a hard preference, and your point seems very reasonable – for governments in particular, it’s long been my opinion that they’re best when they’re deciding what’s right for their constituency, rather than micromanaging the details of how to achieve it.

    That said, the issue of whether there’s room in the market for two standards is an important one, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk about that some day too.

    – Andrew

  10. jasonmatusow says:

    There is always room in the market for multiple standards (as long as we are not talking about health & safety). To me, optimization then comes from the marketplace forces where consumers choose solutions (implementations of the standards). OSI vs. TCP/IP vs. however many other networking specs were avaialbl. TCP/IP won based on implementation and adoption.

    Doc formats won’t be exactly the same as communications protocols, which won’t be exactly the same as media encoding, etc. Also, there is a huge question to be answered about what is optimal vs. practical. 🙂

    Anyway  – there will be much to talk about as standards continue to become more important rather than less as we move to a more and more connected world.


  11. Andrew Sayers says:

    Ah, you’re saying that it’s possible that one format or another will fall by the wayside, but that there’s no point debating something that’s for the market to decide?  I’d always got the impression that you were arguing there was definitely a market for both formats.

    I agree that different formats follow different rules, and I suppose there’s no way of knowing how the various factors will play out in any given situation.  That said, the office productivity market had to deal with a plethora of (admittedly proprietary and less transatable) standards in the early 90’s, and chose Microsoft for reasons that seem to be as valid today as they were back then.

    – Andrew

  12. jasonmatusow says:

    I do believe there is a market for both formats. As long as there are people using different products, then there is room for different formats. One format may rise to greater use than others – but IMHO that won’t be because of the format, it will be because of the product that uses it is more compelling. I disagree with the notion that says – ODF was an ISO standard first, thus it should the only document format. Seems like strange logic to me. But, if you are a company – say IBM or SUN, seeking to drive a wedge issue that gives attention to your product, drives pilots of your solutions, gives your consults an opportunity to do conversion and deployment work, gives your middleware play (@ 60% margin) an opportunity to be more successful, and at the same time damages a competitor – then that logic makes great sense. If you are the established player, you will argue something different.

    I have always said this is about market-based competition rather than the higher ideals of document formats. All of us – on both sides of the issue care about the higher ideals – and we think our solutions are providing the best path to achieve those goals. So, if you take a pro-competition standpoint it would seem best to enable richness of options, standardization to the point that enables independent implementation, and all of that leading to greater competition in the applications that use the formats.

    ISO standard or not – this is where we are. The MA ETRM policy doesn’t even reference ISO ODF – it references OASIS ODF. Do you think they really care about ISO vs. OASIS for the ETRM – or do they care about open documents and the flexibility that is bringing them? They want competition among vendors for the office suites they buy as that drives down prices and up value.  

    Anyway – this will remain a very interesting fracas through the end of the BRM.


  13. openup says:

    microsoft continues to amaze me and the spin it puts on subjects.  if you have been working on this since 1998 why is there only one company that can implement you closed xml format.  

    there are already quite of number of products that run on any os that use ODF.    

    your views on what is an open format is very entertaining and self serving.   massachusetts originally did the correct thing but now has caved in to political pressure that you lobbyists have put on them.  just like the men in black in florida your lobbyists are your most valued employees. that speaks volumes for a technology company.  when you have to resort threats and laws to force people to use their products also speaks volumes about your products.

    ODF is truly the open format because it isn’t controlled by one company and is made for the consumers.  it is companies working together for the consumer.   I really don’t know how you guys at microsoft get up and look in the mirror in the morning and also look at your children with a straight face.  

    to bad that sco thing isn’t working out for you anymore.

  14. openup says:

    here is a link to the true facts and how us users see them


  15. James M. Susanka says:

    here is something interesting and thoughtful

    "He said technical people at Microsoft told him it would be “trivial” to add support for ODF to the new Office 2007. The resistance to doing so came from the vendor’s business side, according to Kriss….

    As part of his e-mail exchanges with Gutierrez, Yates didn’t deny Burke’s involvement in promoting the amendment sponsored by state Sen. Michael Morrissey that sought to take away much of the IT division’s decision-making authority."

    to bad you didn’t just play nice with the oasis group.  

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