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OASIS Symposium keynote makes case for openness

Former CIO for Massachusetts argues for firing any CIO who "blindly buys Microsoft" rather than moving toward open source and open standards software.

San Francisco, Calif. -- The OASIS Symposium 2006 opened this morning with a keynote by Peter J. Quinn, former...

CIO of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, advocating open standards and open source to break the monopoly Microsoft has on the desktop.

Any CIO who continues to blindly buy Microsoft should be fired.
Peter J. Quinn
former CIOThe Commonwealth of Massachusetts

He acknowledged that advancing open source and open standards will not be easy, especially in government where he worked most recently.

"Most people in government are risk averse," he said.

He also noted that in the past the rule in IT was that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, and today the rule is nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft.

But the outspoken critic of Microsoft and its current domination of desktop software, Quinn told his audience at the OASIS Symposium, "Any CIO who continues to blindly buy Microsoft should be fired. Every CEO and CFO should be questioning Microsoft purchases."

One of the problems with the open source and open standards community, he said is that it fails to eat its own dog food.

"We've seen the problem and it is us," Quinn said. "Everybody complains that Microsoft is number one. Who made them number one? Somebody signs a purchase order everyday."

He said he has been at more than one open source group meeting where he couldn't use his open desktop software because the group was using Microsoft Office applications.

"We talk the talk but we don't walk the talk," Quinn said.

However, he was not without optimism to share with the attendees at the OASIS open standards symposium. He predicted that open source and open standards will reach the tipping point in the next 12 to 18 months. He sees a future where open source and open standards along with Web services and Service-Oriented Architecture will be the model followed by IT in business and government.

He said the move toward open source and open standards will be driven by the desire of IT organizations to gain freedom of choice in software and the ability to have some control over the future direction of their systems. He said that Microsoft's business model is to force IT off its current operating system every few years to move to the next release. Based on his experience in moving Massachusetts to open source and open standards, he said he believes that model can be changed.

Beyond trying to break Microsoft's monopoly, he said that one of the arguments he used for moving to open standards and interoperability is that it is needed for government agencies to communicate. He noted that one of the leaders of the 9-11 hijackers escaped detention for an invalid driver's license, which might have kept him in jail on the day of the attack, because various state and federal computer systems couldn't communicate. Moving to a more recent example, he said FEMA and other federal and state agencies ran into similar communication failures that prevented a better early response to Hurricane Katrina.

Quinn was especially outraged that for victims to apply for aid online, FEMA required they use the latest version of Microsoft Internet Explorer and did not support open source browsers.

However, he told his audience that despite the clear advantages of moving to open source and open standards, he met resistance from both business and lawmakers in Massachusetts in September 2003 when the state government first announced its commitment to an open IT philosophy.

He said he had to fight "pushback" from industry groups and even members of the state legislature. He went through a grueling hearing and meetings to convince both business and lawmakers to support open source.

In terms of lessons learned, he suggested that others working to advance open source be prudent and avoid overstatements such as "changing the software industry" and instead concentrate on making the business case for it.

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In a state government where it is considered a virtue to save taxpayers' money, he said cost savings can be demonstrated by implementing software that is based on open source and open standards. He said that in studying what state workers needed, he found that for most they didn't even need Microsoft Office on their desktop. Substantive browser, email and calendaring is all most people working in government needed. If they require an office suite, he said that is now available for free in open source.

"When you need a suite, you can get one for nothing," he said.

By making the budgetary as well as technological case for open source and open standards, he said he was eventually able to convince the doubting legislators and all the businesses except Microsoft that openness was the right thing to do in Massachusetts.

Despite his success he said he resigned from the state government because he was a "lightening rod" in state for those who still oppose open source. He recently joined the BISYS Group, an insurance brokerage firm, as senior vice president for business systems.

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