After talking big about dropping proprietary software and moving to open-source software (OSS) solutions, the state of Massachusetts finalized its IT acquisition policy this week and says it will concentrate on open standards rather than OSS. The difference is hardly subtle: A move to OSS would have been extremely damaging to the state's current software suppliers, most notably Microsoft, which has set up itself as the poster child for proprietary software. Now, because the company has been pushing its move to open standards for years, Microsoft will likely continue to be the primary benefactor of Massachusetts' software purchases.
"The Commonwealth \[of Massachusetts\] has a responsibility to ensure that information technology solutions are selected based on best value after careful consideration of all possible alternatives, including proprietary, public sector code sharing, and open source solutions," says a statement Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney issued. Other factors also favor Microsoft. Describing the state's new IT procurement policies, Romney said in the statement that Massachusetts will concentrate on solutions that reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO), provide the "best value," and enhance flexibility and performance. The criteria reads like a Microsoft marketing message; the software giant has consistently argued that its software is a better value than open-source alternatives.
Although the new IT procurement policy ensures that the state will consider all options, Massachusetts has made one change that should satisfy OSS fans. Open-source solutions now are explicitly mentioned as candidates for consideration. "For all prospective IT investments, agencies must consider as part of the best value evaluation all possible solutions, including open standards compliant open source and proprietary software as well as open standards compliant public sector code sharing at the local, state, and federal levels," the policy states. Examples of the open standards Massachusetts says it will support include HTML; HTTP; the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP); TCP/IP; Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI); the Web Services Description Language (WSDL); and XML.
So how did the Massachusetts fiasco begin? Last fall, Eric Kriss, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance, wrote a memo arguing that the state should abandon its "disjointed and proprietary" IT methods. And although reports about Massachusetts abandoning proprietary software were widespread, not everyone in the state felt that such a decision was inevitable or even advisable. Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco argued that giving preferential treatment to OSS over proprietary software was, in fact, illegal.