The state of Massachusetts' plan to swap employees' desktop software for applications based on open standards could be a boon for not just IBM's Lotus Notes business but IBM Workplace as well.
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The state of Massachusetts' plan to swap employees' desktop software for applications based on open standards could be a boon for not just IBM's Lotus Notes business but IBM Workplace as well. And if other states follow Massachusetts' lead, so much the better.
"IBM is positioning itself to be the vendor of choice when the open-standards strategy manifests itself and Massachusetts divests itself of closed-standard technologies," says Carmi Levy, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group Inc. "Microsoft now has viable competition on the end user's desktop, whatever that desktop looks like over the next few years. IBM has served notice that it won't go down without a fight."
Indeed, while Microsoft strongly opposes Massachusetts' decision to move all official records the Commonwealth creates and maintains to the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDoc) by 2007, IBM publicly lauds the scheme. "We support the recommended guidelines, especially the technology specifications for the OASIS Open Document Format," Robert Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open source, says in an official response to the Massachusetts plan.
After consulting with industry experts and vendors, and receiving a slew of public comments, Massachusetts on September 21 finalized its plan to save money and ensure accessibility to state documents.
In an unpublished letter to the Boston Globe posted to his blog site, Sutor expands on IBM's endorsement. "IBM sees the Massachusetts requirement as a model for governments proactively serving their citizens," he writes. "This decision is good common sense for the Commonwealth."
Clearly, as David Berlind, executive editor of ZDNet, posts in a recent blog entry, IBM's "interest in OpenDoc isn't casual." For sure, IBM has invested lots of time in the standard for a reason. "Pick any front: Servers, Internet or client architectures: IBM has it[s] sights squarely on Microsoft," he writes.
Levy agrees. Massachusetts' OpenDoc backing "reduces the lock that IBM's main competitor has on a large and influential user base," he says, "and makes the case for alternative vendors of messaging and office productivity software."
IBM is confident that Massachusetts and other state governments will choose its OpenDoc-compliant solutions, including Notes as a component of IBM Workplace, as the alternative. "We don't think anyone will deep-six a Notes environment that's been incredibly productive for them," says Kevin Cavanaugh, IBM's vice president of development in Westford, Mass. "If our customers need a straightforward way to get to the [OpenDoc] format, we'll provide support for them."
IBM will soon deliver OpenDoc compliance with version 2.6 of IBM Workplace Managed Client, according to Cavanaugh. "We'll continue to enhance those abilities as we work with the standard and bring it into more products, including, but not limited to, Notes," he says. "We're taking the expertise we've picked up in doing [OpenDoc] implementations for productivity editors and will build the import and export of documents in [OpenDoc] format to and from Notes."
Unless Microsoft changes strategies and suddenly backs OpenDoc, Notes seems to have a competitive advantage in Massachusetts' collaborative software plans. But, Levy cautions, one state's plan is not enough to dethrone the king.
"If every state follows a similar tack, maybe we're onto something and Microsoft's Open XML strategy may not be a great idea," Levy says. "But we're not seeing that. Microsoft has not backed down and is committed to using Open XML for its forthcoming Office versions."
Several states are involved in open software initiatives, but Massachusetts alone mandates OpenDoc support on the desktop. And, while other states will wait to see if Massachusetts' move pays off, "there's not a groundswell yet," says Levy.
It's one thing to announce," he says. "It's another thing to follow through and live through it."
Emily Kay writes about technology as a principal at Choice Communications, an editorial consulting firm in Chelmsford, Mass.