PACKET RAT: After open-source effort, Mass. CIO is out of the game

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

'It looks like Peter Quinn got a big pile of political nastiness in his stocking from Santa this year,' the Rat remarked to his boss recently, after reading about the Massachusetts CIO's sudden resignation. The controversial CIO, responsible for the move to mandate that state agencies use the OpenDocument format for all electronic documents, hit the 'eject' button on his tenure after the mud started flying from all quarters.

Quinn's push toward OpenDoc'an open standard created by an alliance of Apple Computer Inc., IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and others'was seen as a threat to Microsoft Corp.'s domination of office suites.

Sure, Microsoft'not among the alliance members'has now moved to make its own new document format an 'open' standard, partially because of Massachusetts' move. The Redmond giant is working through the standards group ECMA International as it did with VBScript, er, ECMAscript a few years ago.

But Quinn hadn't counted on the amount of stink that could arrive on his doorstep after he became a champion to the open-source community.

Among other things, the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who's positioning himself for a presidential bid, launched an investigation into Quinn's trips to out-of-state IT conferences. Quinn was cleared, but he may have come to feel like too big a target. He announced his resignation to staff members Dec. 24, effective today.

Perhaps it was inevitable. The whiskered one notes that IT executives from the private sector'Quinn was previously CIO of a financial company'have had a poor track record in general when it comes to adjusting to the realpolitik of the public sector.

'Just look at the parade of cyberczars at Homeland Security,' he said with a sad shake of his furry head.

Sure, private-sector CIOs have to be masters of the ninjitsu of office politics. But throw them in the government sector, where laws of common sense, fiduciary responsibility and physics are all trumped by executive order or legislative fiat, and inevitably you'll find them clawing their way through oak-paneled doors to escape back into the kinder, gentler land of capitalism.

Not that mandating an open-file format for all government documents was a bad idea, mind you. The folks at the National Archives would approve; it would certainly make their lives easier.

And given the interoperability problems state, local and federal agencies have with information sharing, a common document standard unencumbered by vendor patents would, the Rat thinks, be a Good Thing.

And while Microsoft is touting its Office 'Open XML' format as meeting that requirement, not even Microsoft is using it yet. Currently, the only thing Microsoft has open is the FUD hatch.

'But of course, that's just silly talk,' the wirebiter smirked as his boss blanched at the idea of following Quinn's path down the politics of personal destruction. 'Who wants government to work efficiently, anyway?'

Quinn's departure may not have any impact, in the long term, on the Massachusetts regulation requiring OpenDoc (a requirement Microsoft could probably manage to meet with a fairly simple plug-in). But it certainly takes a bit of momentum from the OpenDoc drive to dislodge Microsoft from its dominance of the desktop.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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