Perhaps a turning point in my year, 2005, came in one instant in June at the Massachusetts State House at the ODF Summit hosted by Peter Quinn. It was at the point in proceedings when Quinn cast the question around the room, "What's our conclusion, then?" A few people spoke and then I heard IBM's Bob Sutor in his tan summer suit say, "OpenDocument is definitely in your future."
IBM's software strategist, Doug Heintzman (with whom I had sat on a panel that Winter where I heard him express views to the effect that OpenOffice's file conversion performance was not complete) who was sitting there next to Bob, was nodding in the affirmative. At this time (June 2005), I had not yet heard IBM's confident declaration of support for OpenDocument (something I had been supporting since 2001) and it was a startling moment.
Startling because I always knew that OpenDocument represented a change in the way many people do things. And in the cauldron of influence, if Big Blue says it's okay, then it really is OKAY! June for me represented that first moment I could see clearly that OpenDocument -- as a universal phenomenon -- was going to happen.
CIOs Will Agree
If you are a CIO or IT staff at the state or municipal government level (in any country), you too will be thinking, "OpenDocument, it's in my future." If you haven't had this thought yourself yet, you certainly will in coming weeks and months as you become aware of the number of your colleagues in different locations who are proactively dealing with this technical & cultural shift.
The news last week came in from the National Archives of Australia, from the US State of Minnesota, and from the CIO of the national government of Norway. They are all going down the OpenDocument path. The news can now only point to the inevitability of arguments in favor of a single, open file format standard for office documents. Each new adoption case weakens the social contract supporting the old proprietary way of doing things with documents. In time, any discussion at the state and municipal government level about the benefits of Microsoft's new format will prompt cock-eyed glances, the same kind we got when OpenOffice first launched its reference implementation of OpenDocument in 2001.
What is so reassuring about Minnesota is that they are quite aware of Massachusetts (of the policy, the policy process itself as well as of Microsoft's tactics there). And Minnesota's tactics show how much they have taken on board. These are not ignorant people. The wording of the legislation not only establishes a positive course toward OpenDocument for the state; but by making a more specific definition of "open" in the context of the document standard, Minnesota at once paints Microsoft's ECMA strategy into its destined corner while making it practically impossible for Minnesota agencies or Massachusetts policy to revert back to support for the second Microsoft standard when the ECMA and ISO processes conclude.
Minnesota's Influential Definition
Minnesota's rigourous new definition of "open standard" (context is the file format)...
"Open standards" means specifications for the encoding and transfer of computer data that:
(1) is free for all to implement and use in perpetuity, with no royalty or fee;
(2) has no restrictions on the use of data stored in the format;
(3) has no restrictions on the creation of software that stores, transmits, receives, or accesses data codified in such way;
(4) has a specification available for all to read, in a human-readable format, written in commonly accepted technical language;
(5) is documented, so that anyone can write software that can read and interpret the complete semantics of any data file stored in the data format;
(6) if it allows extensions, ensures that all extensions of the data format are themselves documented and have the other characteristics of an open data format;
(7) allows any file written in that format to be identified as adhering or not adhering to the format;
(8) if it includes any use of encryption, provides that the encryption algorithm is usable on a royalty-free, nondiscriminatory manner in perpetuity, and is documented so that anyone in possession of the appropriate encryption key or keys is able to write software to unencrypt the data.
"Restricted format" means any data format that is accessed, stored, or transferred and is not open standards compliant.
Let me be perfectly clear about this: there is unanimous agreement among IT & standards experts as among state government IT officials that Microsoft's new file format does not meet the widely agreed definition of 'open' in the context of a format. MSECMAXML currently fails on at least points 5, 6 & 8 of the Minnesota Bill (there will be much more written on these points). After Minnesota, there will be no turning back away from a single, real, open file format standard: no turning away from a total, exclusive commitment to OpenDocument. The plain result of Minnesota and other states whose approaches succeed to further box Microsoft into its own bad strategy is that no state or municipal government can possibly argue or justify a non-OpenDocument direction. There will be no adoptions of the MSECMAXML among this class of organizations because the single-vendor dependencies in that format negate its contention. Do you recognize that MSECMAXML cannot qualify for consideration next to OpenDocument? CIOs: If the answer is 'yes,' please enter a comment. If 'no,' please enter a comment that helps us understand your issues & point of view.
As you recognize that change is inevitable across your organization, the same sequence of thoughts will come...
- How do we take the OpenDocument direction on?
- Shall we pursue the policy route (like Massachusetts), or the legislative route (Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Minnesota)?
- What is the most efficacious way to influence all our agencies to migrate the format?
- How can we implement OpenDocument?
- What are my choices: OpenOffice.org 2.0, StarOffice 8, IBM's Lotus Workplace, Writely?
- Over time, what new options are likely to present themselves?
- What will happen with the users?
- Will they resist, even rebel?
- What about my legacy documents?
- What about macros, databases, mailing list processes & stubborn workflows (dependencies on enterprise applications) which need to be re-engineered?
- How shall I make the arguments that this action is necessary?
- Who must I convince?
If this sequence flashing before your eyes causes anxiety, you can be calm at the notion that others, too, are dealing with the same questions. Thousands of others. This means that the questions will be answered. Not only that, but the answers will be shared and improved through exposure and repetition. This is how the half-life of an ODF conversation near you -- from first meetings through implementation -- will diminish with each successive adoption case.
If we watch what happens at the Bristol City Council, at the Massachusetts Governor's IT department, in Norway and, if the legislation ends well, in Minnesota, then we will have templates, step-by-step instructions for action elsewhere. Each subsequent migration will be faster and more efficient than the last because we learn from successes as well as from mistakes. In time, again, we will come to recognize that OpenDocument migration is not so difficult, not so disruptive; that it is not so strange.
OpenDocument migration is what we did.