Texas, Minnesota eye move to ODF

Texas and Minnesota have proposed bills that could make ODF the default standard for file formats in state agencies

Texas and Minnesota may become the second and third U.S. states to adopt Open Document Format for XML (ODF) as the standard file format for government documents instead of the file format that Microsoft uses in its Office 2007 software suite.

Two separate bills up for legislative consideration in each state propose to mandate the use of an open, XML-based file format that is "interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications; fully published and available royalty-free; implemented by multiple vendors; and controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard," according to the Minnesota House of Representatives bill, which can be found here.

The Texas bill, which can be found here, uses similar wording to describe the file format the states intend to support.

The Minnesota bill proposes that the mandate would take effect beginning July 1, 2008, while the Texas bill gives the state's Department of Information Resources until Sept. 1, 2008 to develop a plan for the transition.

Though the bills do not specifically name ODF as the document format under consideration, the explanation of what each state wants to move to seems to fit the standard. ODF is an industry standard supported by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is available for free and is supported by several vendors in their office suites, including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Google.

In an e-mail to the IDG News Service, one of the senators who sponsored the Minnesota bill, State Senator Don Betzold, confirmed that his state's bill was written with ODF in mind.

"ODF is the standard intended," he said. "It is my goal to make sure that the public has access to electronic documents in the years to come, and that we do not have to rely on licensing agreements or code access."

Indeed, proponents of ODF view the bills as another victory for the file format, and another step closer to giving Microsoft Office the best -- and arguably only -- competition it's had in years. Office 2007 uses Open XML, a format Microsoft developed, as its default file format.

"After Massachusetts, the ODF genie is out of the bottle here in the U.S.," Marino Marcich, managing director of ODF advocacy group the ODF Alliance, said via e-mail. "We're encouraged that Texas and Minnesota seem to be following suit."

Currently, Massachusetts is implementing a plan using ODF as the standard format for all state agency documents. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to adopt ODF.

Microsoft also has submitted Open XML as a global standard, and it is currently before the ISO for approval. If approved and adopted by companies other than Microsoft, it could theoretically fall under the description of an open, XML-based file format as outlined in the Texas and Minnesota bills.

Novell plans to implement Open XML in its version of OpenOffice, and Corel plans support for Open XML in its WordPerfect Office software.

In an e-mail statement from its public relations firm, Microsoft said it supports customer choice and interoperability and urges governments to also do so. However, the company does not approve of governments mandating the use of only one standard for file formats.

Microsoft certainly is keeping a close eye on ODF and recognizes the need for its applications to interoperate with it. Microsoft funded the development of software that translates between Open XML and ODF. The software, called the ODF Translator, was made available in 1.0 form last week on SourceForge.net.

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