Massachusetts adopts Open XML

Open document format approved for use alongside ODF

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Wednesday added Open XML to its list of approved open documents formats.

The decision was included in Massachusetts's ratification of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) 4.0, which had been out for public review since July 2 and garnered 460 comments from individuals and organizations.

"The Commonwealth continues on its path toward open, XML-based document formats without reflecting a vendor or commercial bias in ETRM v4.0," wrote Henry Dormitzer, undersecretary of administration and finance in Massachusetts's Department of Revenue, in a posting on Massachusetts's Information Technology Division Web site.

The update to ETRM, the architectural framework of standards, specifications and technologies that support Massachusetts's computing environment, had a provision to include Ecma-376 Office Open XML as an acceptable document format for office applications along with the Open Document Format (ODF), which had already been approved.

Ecma-376 Office Open XML, derived from Microsoft's Office Open XML (ooXML) and the default file format in Office 2007, was standardized by Ecma in December. Currently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is considering standardizing OpenXML.

Critics of Open XML adoption, such as Andy Updegrove, a lawyer, Linux Foundation board member and Massachusetts resident, said Microsoft should not be "rewarded for launching a competing, self-serving standard as a next-best defense against erosion of its dominant position."

Dormitzer's posting acknowledged the criticism, but said the importance of open formats could not be denied. "We believe that the impact of any legitimate concerns raised about either standard is outweighed substantially by the benefits of moving toward open, XML-based document format standards. Therefore, we will be moving forward to include both ODF and Open XML as acceptable document formats."

He continued, saying, "Massachusetts is the first state to adopt a policy encouraging open, XML-based document formats. The Commonwealth has set the stage for a new and innovative way to ensure state government operates most efficiently and effectively for its citizens." He also said the open formats would aid Massachusetts in building out a service-oriented architecture.

Massachusetts, which passed its open-document measure by executive policy decision in 2005, is the only state to have adopted an open document policy. When the state adopted ODF as an open format it received only160 comments from the public. The 2005 campaign, however, sparked a firestorm of debate over open formats that eventually led to the resignation of both of the ITD CIOs that preceded current acting CIO BethAnn Pepoli.Over the past few months, bills in Connecticut, Florida, Oregon, and Texas were killed; a bill in California is stalled in committee; and a Minnesota proposal has been watered down to requiring the state's IT department to study the issue.

Overseas Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, and Norway are either testing or have approved open file formats.

Massachusetts expects all its agencies to eventually migrate to XML-based office document formats, a process that is already under way.

The majority of agencies currently have Microsoft Office 2003 deployed, according to the ETRM 4.0 draft. Microsoft offers a free Office Compatibility Pack to support use of Open XML.

Massachusetts is currently using the plug-in technology to support ODF while it considers ways to serve people with disabilities that need magnifiers not supported by open office applications that use ODF.

Microsoft's Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards, said in a statement: "The Commonwealth's decision to add Ecma Office Open XML file formats to its list of approved open standards is a positive development for government IT users in the Commonwealth. They now have the freedom to choose whichever format best serves their needs. The Commonwealth's decision also reflects the fact that formats will evolve over time and that approved standards lists should also evolve."

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