Massachusetts to use both Open XML and ODF

The US state will use both document formats, despite a storm of protest from the open-source community

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is to adopt both OpenDocument Format and Microsoft's rival Office Open XML document format.

In a letter posted by the US state's IT division on Wednesday, Henry Dormitzer, undersecretary of administration and finance, and Bethann Pepoli, acting chief information officer, said that by adopting both standards the "Commonwealth continues on its path towards open, XML-based document formats without reflecting a vendor or commercial bias".

Office Open XML (OOXML) was originally developed in-house at Microsoft. The company insists that OOXML, having gained certification from standards organisation Ecma International, is now an Ecma concern, and no longer a proprietary standard. Microsoft is one of the major technology players that participate in Ecma, and is currently the only vendor that uses OOXML.

At the beginning of July, Massachusetts proposed using both ODF, which is an open International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certified standard, and OOXML as office document formats. The draft proposal was open to comment. 460 comments were received, mostly concerning OOXML. Many of the people who responded to the draft proposal argued against the adoption of OOXML on the grounds of its links with Microsoft.

Concerns over OOXML
One respondent, Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, said that, as OOXML is currently only compatible with Office 2007 and Microsoft applications and platforms, Massachusetts would effectively be locking itself into purchasing Microsoft licences. "To date, OOXML has been implemented in a single, proprietary product, Microsoft's Office 2007, meaning there will be no true choice for the Commonwealth and its citizens should OOXML be recommended under the ETRM [proposal]," he wrote. "Moreover, OOXML's complexity, extraordinary length, technical omissions and single-vendor dependencies combine to make alternative implementations unattractive, as well as legally and practically impossible."

"OOXML is either dependent upon, or optimised for, a catalogue of Microsoft software applications and platforms and does not function fully with non-Microsoft software. The practical effect of such dependencies is that the use of OOXML by executive agencies will require the purchase of licences for Microsoft operating systems on both the desktop and the server, as well as Microsoft Office 2007, at considerable cost to Commonwealth taxpayers," Marcich added.

Brylie Oxley, one of the project administrators of GNU Media, an organisation that encourages open media production methods, argued that OOXML had been "hastily developed" in comparison with ODF. "Proprietary software vendors have traditionally ignored open standards and only with increased governmental decisions to embrace open and portable standards do the aforementioned vendors decide to provide an iota of co-operation. This co-operation comes only on 'their' terms and in a hastily developed fashion," Oxley wrote in response to the proposal.

However, Dormitzer and Pepoli wrote in their letter, which was released on Wednesday, that people's concerns would be addressed through the Ecma standards-setting process. "Many of the comments we received identify concerns regarding the Open XML specification. We believe that these concerns, as with those regarding ODF, are appropriately handled through the standards-setting process, and we expect both standards to evolve and improve. The ETRM [proposal] articulates a vision of a service-oriented architecture where information can be shared, re-used and re-purposed based on XML technologies," they wrote.

Earlier this month, Pepoli said that state agencies will be able to choose which formats they create and save documents in. But those agencies will be keeping the current application suite — Microsoft Office — on their 50,000 desktops.

Massachusetts mandated the use of open formats in desktop applications nearly two years ago, causing a stir among governments and the technology industry. At that time, only ODF met its IT division's definition of an open standard, and was not supported in Microsoft Office.

Since then, Microsoft Open XML has become a certified Ecma standard. The ISO, which holds significant weight with governments around the world, is currently deciding whether to accept OOXML as a standard.


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