database that will replace an aging mainframe system.

The registration system issues more than 1 million vehicle stickers annually, and was ready to go into production for this year's renewal cycle, said Steve Philbrick, first deputy CIO of Chicago. Stickers went on sale in June, so the system was set to begin generating notices in late April.

"The registration system generates several million dollars in revenue," Philbrick said. "Government is real big into mission-critical when it comes to revenue generation."

Philbrick said Chicago reduced maintenance costs by replacing hardware based on proprietary UNIX software with an open source platform.

But the biggest open source story in 2005 was a year-end battle in Massachusetts. All hell broke loose in November when state CIO Peter Quinn released a policy decision that sought to phase out office productivity applications from Microsoft and other providers in favor of those based on open standards, including the recently approved OpenDocument standard.

The state first described the plan in early September, and Massachusetts agencies would have had until Jan. 1, 2007, to install applications that support the OpenDocument file formats and phase out other products.

Quinn's decision created a firestorm.

The secretary of state attacked the proposal in the press, questioning the reach of the IT Division to enact the standard and force agencies to adhere to it. Then the Legislature jumped in, and the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight held hearings to determine the process that Quinn's IT Division used to formulate the new open document policy.

The state Senate then tacked a provision mandating the creation of a four-person IT task force to approve technical standards in state government onto an economic stimulus bill. If approved, the provision would hamstring the IT Division from issuing such standards.

Like many other challenges that arose in 2005, it's a policy issue destined to occupy both policymakers and IT professionals well into 2006.

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor