Critic bashes Massachusetts on Open XML proposal

Linux Foundation board member opposes the Open XML initiative

With about a week remaining to collect comments on a plan to adopt Ecma's Open XML standard, Massachusetts is mum on how the issue is fairing, but some who disagree with the action are already voicing their opinion publicly.

Andy Updegrove, a lawyer, a board member of the Linux Foundation and a Massachusetts resident is stirring controversy with comments he submitted to the Massachusetts Information Technology Department (ITD) that oppose the Open XML initiative.

"Microsoft is hardly to be blamed for lending no support to the success of the Open Document Format (ODF). But neither should it be rewarded for launching a competing, self-serving standard as a next-best defense against erosion of its dominant position," he wrote in comments submitted to the ITD.

Ecma's Open XML standard, known as Ecma-376, is based on Microsoft's Open XML, which is the default format in Office 2007. Microsoft submitted the format to Ecma, which approved it in December.

A straightjacket on innovation

Updegrove said the level of detail in the 6,039 pages of Ecma-376 specification "will place a straightjacket on innovation, restricting any implementation to rigid conformance."

"As one who has long studied and promoted the importance of open standards, I urge [Massachusetts] to hold the marketplace to a higher standard and to refuse to include Ecma-376 on its approved list."

Bethann Pepoli, acting CIO of the ITD, said the commonwealth will not publish any correspondence it receives during the public comment period, which expires July 20, until after a final decision on adoption is made at the end of this month.

"We have received about 50 responses so far, but we have another week left," she said during a July 12 interview. Unlike Updegrove, none of those respondents have made their comments public.

Pepoli said the response rate is not heavier than in 2005, when the state adopted ODF as an open format and received nearly 160 responses. The 2005 campaign sparked a firestorm of debate over open formats that eventually led to the resignation of both of the ITD CIOs who preceded Pepoli.

The proposal to adopt Open XML was made July 2 as part of Massachusetts's Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) 4.0. The draft listed Ecma-376 as one of its major revisions. Today, ETRM only recognizes ODF as a standard, open format.

ETRM 4.0 is an architectural framework of standards, specifications and technologies that support Massachusetts's computing environment.

Enter the translators

While Massachusetts is working through its decision on Ecma-376, Microsoft said last week that Turbolinux, the Web site with the leading Linux distribution in Asia-Pacific, would help develop new versions of tools to translate documents between ODF and Office 2007 Open XML.

Turbolinux distributes a version of OpenOffice.org, and the translator will add read/write support for Open XML.

The translator, called Open XML Translator 1.0, was made available in May for free on Source Forge, the open source software development Web site where the first prototype of the Translator tool was posted in July 2006. The tool was developed under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution license.

Linux vendors Novell, Linspire and Xandros are already part of the Open XML Translator project. The three vendors also signed a cross-licensing patent deal with Microsoft before the June 29 release of the GNU General Public License (GPL) Version 3, which contains provisions against such patent deals.

Turbolinux was rumored to be considering signing a similar deal before the GPLv3 release, but an agreement between the company and Microsoft never materialized.

Microsoft also said that more than 1,150 partners from 50 countries and six continents have registered support for Ecma-376.

Two weeks ago, Sun released the first version of its own ODF translator add-in for Office. The Sun ODF Plugin works with Office 2000, 2003 and XP.

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