September 1, 2005 8:02 AM PDT

Massachusetts to adopt 'open' desktop

The commonwealth of Massachusetts has proposed a plan 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 described the plan in a posting made to its Web site earlier this week as part of a public review process which ends Sept. 9. Massachusetts agencies have until Jan. 1, 2007, to install applications that support the OpenDocument file formats and phase out other products.

By then, agencies must have applications that save documents in that format by default. Massachusetts will also sanction use of Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format (PDF) format, which it says "meet(s) criteria of openness and (is) therefore considered acceptable at this time." Documents need to adhere to a version of PDF that supports XML.

"Given (that) the majority of executive department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable," according to the state's Enterprise Technical Reference Model, a document that describes the state's standards guidelines for data, documents and records.

The state's move is a boost to the relatively new standard, whose full name is the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications. It's also a blow to Microsoft, which dominates the office application market and has found government customers to be among those most aggressively considering open-source alternatives.

The OpenDocument format, which was ratified as a standard in May, covers office applications, including word processors, spreadsheets and charts.

It is the default format for the OpenOffice open-source suite of applications and is supported in suites by Novell and Sun Microsystems and by IBM in its Workplace products.

OpenDocument uses the data-tagging method XML to format and store documents. Because these XML formats, or schemas, are published as standards, Massachusetts considers them an "open format" and suitable for saving official public records--a rising concern among government agencies.

In a statement posted Monday, Massachusetts' chief information officer, Peter Quinn, said that the state met with industry representatives earlier this year about office applications and its standards.

"These discussions have centered on open formats, particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative 'openness' of the format options available to us," Quinn said.

In the upcoming version of Microsoft Office12, which is due next year, Microsoft intends to support XML by default. However, the company has not chosen to natively support the OpenDocument format and instead will rely on "filters" to convert XML document formats.

Alan Yates, Microsoft's general manager of Information Worker business strategy, criticized the Massachusetts proposal, saying it was "confusing". He said it uses different criteria for openness for office documents, data and Adobe PDF.

"We were surprised by the narrowing of the approach to openness," Yates said. "There are many other different options that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has here that many other countries and states are doing."

Yates reiterated the Microsoft does not intend to natively support the OpenDocument format, which he said was very specific to the OpenOffice 2.0 open-source suite.

He said Microsoft can provide the same data interoperability and archiving that Massachusetts is pursuing because Microsoft publishes the XML schema of its Office applications and makes available through a royalty free license.

One 300-member coalition called the Initiative for Software Choice which is affiliated with the Computing Technology Industry Association ( CompTIA) said that the Massachusetts proposal was "troubling" and limits competition in the state's procurement process.

"As a practical matter, it mandates that state agencies use OpenOffice software," said the group's executive director Melanie Wyne. "They can achieve the same goals without creating a mandate for one kind of licensing model."

RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady, in a blog posting, said a move by Massachusetts to OpenDocument could be significant if other governmental organizations follow the state's lead.

"The importance here is more symbolic than anything, of course. While Massachusetts is undoubtedly a sizable contract for Microsoft, the revenue is incidental to the big picture: a sizable win in the US for the ODF (OpenDocument Format)," O'Grady wrote. "As many purveyors of alternative desktop or office productivity tools can tell you, traction for their products have been good to great in various geographies abroad, but far less impressive here in the United States."

Massachusetts--which continued to sue Microsoft over alleged antitrust issues even after the federal government and other states had settled--has fully embraced open-source software and "open" standards internally.

The state, which expects to save money by adopting these standards, last year launched a project to make more efficient use of open-source software by encouraging sharing between agencies.

34 comments

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Good for them.
I don't know about the OpenDocument standard or format, but the concept is a good one. Regardless the method for saving and opening having a singular recognized format is a plus for all.

Now if only we can get banks and other agencies to follow suit. Working in the real estate business one of the most annoying things is downloading thirty different programs to print edocs. PDF's and a OpenDocument standard would be great if you could get them to use them, but they probably won't since only a couple of the many I have to deal with will give you an option for PDF.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good for them.
I don't know about the OpenDocument standard or format, but the concept is a good one. Regardless the method for saving and opening having a singular recognized format is a plus for all.

Now if only we can get banks and other agencies to follow suit. Working in the real estate business one of the most annoying things is downloading thirty different programs to print edocs. PDF's and a OpenDocument standard would be great if you could get them to use them, but they probably won't since only a couple of the many I have to deal with will give you an option for PDF.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not excluding Microsoft except by Microsoft choice
The thing this report neglects to mention is that Microsoft is *not* excluded from this change, except by Microsoft's own choice. The whole point is the file formats are *open*. They can be implemented by anyone.

Microsoft can easily add them as an load/save type in Microsoft Office in order to comply with Open Standards, it just doesn't want to. MS-Office can load Wordperfect files - this is just another type to add.

The only people making this a strike against Microsoft are Microsoft themselves.

Jeremy Allison,
Samba Team.
Posted by jrasamba.org (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly right
Very well put! :)

I expect someone will find a way to release an import/export add-on for existing MS products before too long. It's hardly impossible to do. :)
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Not excluding Microsoft except by Microsoft choice
The thing this report neglects to mention is that Microsoft is *not* excluded from this change, except by Microsoft's own choice. The whole point is the file formats are *open*. They can be implemented by anyone.

Microsoft can easily add them as an load/save type in Microsoft Office in order to comply with Open Standards, it just doesn't want to. MS-Office can load Wordperfect files - this is just another type to add.

The only people making this a strike against Microsoft are Microsoft themselves.

Jeremy Allison,
Samba Team.
Posted by jrasamba.org (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly right
Very well put! :)

I expect someone will find a way to release an import/export add-on for existing MS products before too long. It's hardly impossible to do. :)
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
At least this part of our MA tax dollars dont go to Microsoft, Great.
Never a state to miss an opportunity to run up the taxes on it
residents, I applaud MA for making a switch to open standards
and away from the excessive user taxes Microsoft tries to
strangle us with. That they cannot offer a "real value" when
compared to this Open doc format is more proof that they just
dont care about interoperability, playing fair, or getting along
with others. Thankfully this State, MA, was smart enough to
realize that Bill Gates Windows tax was eating into their coffers.
They were also one of the last States to accept the lame
settlement the weak US Judge Coleen Kotelly brought on MSFT
back during their monopoly sentencing.
Posted by educateme (101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
At least this part of our MA tax dollars dont go to Microsoft, Great.
Never a state to miss an opportunity to run up the taxes on it
residents, I applaud MA for making a switch to open standards
and away from the excessive user taxes Microsoft tries to
strangle us with. That they cannot offer a "real value" when
compared to this Open doc format is more proof that they just
dont care about interoperability, playing fair, or getting along
with others. Thankfully this State, MA, was smart enough to
realize that Bill Gates Windows tax was eating into their coffers.
They were also one of the last States to accept the lame
settlement the weak US Judge Coleen Kotelly brought on MSFT
back during their monopoly sentencing.
Posted by educateme (101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Waste of tax money
so basically, because some bureaucrats came up with 'standards' to justify their jobs, the entire state gov will be forced to use harder to use, and quite frankly, less compatible, open source software. Wise use of tax money in a state thats already over taxed.

(and yes, I'm stuck w/ open office now, so I know all about it. Its no MS Office)
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm a happy MA resident now!
This is one thing that makes me proud to be a Massachusetts resident! This is a GOOD use of tax money! Using open standards gives more choice of software and less ties to any one company. In the long run, it will likely lower the cost for the state.

OpenOffice is an excellent package although a little slow sometimes. I can't see how anyone would say that they are "stuck" with it. It is easily as user friendly as MS Office.

Besides, if the state is giving until 2007 to switch things over, I can't see any major problems except for perhaps a few users that have a hard time adjusting to any change. This isn't the fault of the software, though; I can honestly say that I have seen people have a hard time going to easier to use systems. The just don't want to change their ways, even if it is for the better.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Open Standard not Open Source
You equate an Open Standard (which is more like an Open Recommendation) to Open Source. The to are very different.

Everybody keeps saying Microsoft won't support it, but according to the article Microsoft will have a import/export feature for the OpenDocument Standard. That may not be as conveniant as native format, but it's still supporting it.

I think people forget that not everybody uses or wants to use Microsoft Office. I use WordPerfect and I am hoping they will support this standard as well. Open formats and standards are good things. It allows the sharing of data without the need for multiple peices of software and in a perfect world without the need for special import/export features.

The truly nice feature here is, and I am assuming here that all office applications support open standards, that if a company created all of their documents using an open standard format then switching between office applications would be less expensive and less time consuming converting documents.

And last, if all the government agencies switched to OpenOffice it would probably save the people tax dollars because OpenOffice is free. Although there will be a transition period for learning, training, and support that wont be free, once done it would cost less because those people would be trained and able to support it just like any other product.

At the very least the only major problem I see is those who are "stuck" with Microsoft Office and no way to export into this Open Standard.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Not forced to change software...
They are not forced to change the software, but to change the format of documents saved from that software.

This is important since you want the ability to open those documents many years later or with a competitive product. You could switch from MS Office, to Open Office then back to MS Office 2020 when it comes out, and your documents will still be viable.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Such a WASTE of tax money.
How can MA be wasting tax money if they're expected to save money from the switch?
Posted by mokupo (2 comments )
Link Flag
Waste of tax money
so basically, because some bureaucrats came up with 'standards' to justify their jobs, the entire state gov will be forced to use harder to use, and quite frankly, less compatible, open source software. Wise use of tax money in a state thats already over taxed.

(and yes, I'm stuck w/ open office now, so I know all about it. Its no MS Office)
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm a happy MA resident now!
This is one thing that makes me proud to be a Massachusetts resident! This is a GOOD use of tax money! Using open standards gives more choice of software and less ties to any one company. In the long run, it will likely lower the cost for the state.

OpenOffice is an excellent package although a little slow sometimes. I can't see how anyone would say that they are "stuck" with it. It is easily as user friendly as MS Office.

Besides, if the state is giving until 2007 to switch things over, I can't see any major problems except for perhaps a few users that have a hard time adjusting to any change. This isn't the fault of the software, though; I can honestly say that I have seen people have a hard time going to easier to use systems. The just don't want to change their ways, even if it is for the better.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Open Standard not Open Source
You equate an Open Standard (which is more like an Open Recommendation) to Open Source. The to are very different.

Everybody keeps saying Microsoft won't support it, but according to the article Microsoft will have a import/export feature for the OpenDocument Standard. That may not be as conveniant as native format, but it's still supporting it.

I think people forget that not everybody uses or wants to use Microsoft Office. I use WordPerfect and I am hoping they will support this standard as well. Open formats and standards are good things. It allows the sharing of data without the need for multiple peices of software and in a perfect world without the need for special import/export features.

The truly nice feature here is, and I am assuming here that all office applications support open standards, that if a company created all of their documents using an open standard format then switching between office applications would be less expensive and less time consuming converting documents.

And last, if all the government agencies switched to OpenOffice it would probably save the people tax dollars because OpenOffice is free. Although there will be a transition period for learning, training, and support that wont be free, once done it would cost less because those people would be trained and able to support it just like any other product.

At the very least the only major problem I see is those who are "stuck" with Microsoft Office and no way to export into this Open Standard.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Not forced to change software...
They are not forced to change the software, but to change the format of documents saved from that software.

This is important since you want the ability to open those documents many years later or with a competitive product. You could switch from MS Office, to Open Office then back to MS Office 2020 when it comes out, and your documents will still be viable.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Such a WASTE of tax money.
How can MA be wasting tax money if they're expected to save money from the switch?
Posted by mokupo (2 comments )
Link Flag
Next Version of Office is switching to .XML by default
Or they could just end up upgrading to the newest version of MS Office. The next release is going to switch to XML no more .DOC or .XLS.
Posted by Curtiss W (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft XML
I can't speak for all Microsoft products that will be available, but I got a Excel XML file (don't know how it got that way), but when I ran it through a XML validity checker it came back with all kinds of non conformity issues. I must say that I have no information as to how it was generated so it may have come from a third party and not from any Microsoft products. BUT according to the person I got it from it came from Office 2003.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
XML MS style
If MS does adopt XML they will tweek it so you have to use their version. MS has never adopted an opensoures or standard without making some action incompatable with the standard version. look at their versions of JAVA or go back to the beginning of Dartmouth BASIC. That's how MS keeps you hooked.
Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Link Flag
A .doc file by any other name...
Just changing the extension won't change the format. I seriously doubt Microsoft's next Office will support the open document standard by default.

On the other hand, I'm sure a converter could be built very cheaply for MS Office products and allow them to be configured in such a way to default saving to that format.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Next Version of Office is switching to .XML by default
Or they could just end up upgrading to the newest version of MS Office. The next release is going to switch to XML no more .DOC or .XLS.
Posted by Curtiss W (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft XML
I can't speak for all Microsoft products that will be available, but I got a Excel XML file (don't know how it got that way), but when I ran it through a XML validity checker it came back with all kinds of non conformity issues. I must say that I have no information as to how it was generated so it may have come from a third party and not from any Microsoft products. BUT according to the person I got it from it came from Office 2003.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
XML MS style
If MS does adopt XML they will tweek it so you have to use their version. MS has never adopted an opensoures or standard without making some action incompatable with the standard version. look at their versions of JAVA or go back to the beginning of Dartmouth BASIC. That's how MS keeps you hooked.
Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Link Flag
A .doc file by any other name...
Just changing the extension won't change the format. I seriously doubt Microsoft's next Office will support the open document standard by default.

On the other hand, I'm sure a converter could be built very cheaply for MS Office products and allow them to be configured in such a way to default saving to that format.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Open Document is not restricted to Open Office
This is a format based on what the US DoD has been using for
thirty years, and it can be dealt with by any program capable of
parsing XML. Open Office is a free suite (and works pretty well
on Windows and Mac OS X, and I gather also on Unix). There's
absolutely nothing confusing about it, and it will remain stable
for decades.

Now compare that with Microsoft, who update their standards
each version, making some older formats incompatible, who do
not make the specifications available to other vendors (who
therefore have to reverse engineer it) and whose formats are
getting dangerously bloated and insecure. With a text editor one
can find out in most cases who and when edited a file. Try that
for a public or legal document...

Microsoft can ***** all they like, but they have brought this on
themselves. When they announced XML support a while back,
everyone thought this was wonderful. Then we saw the DTD and
how they had made it nonstandard...
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Open Document is not restricted to Open Office
This is a format based on what the US DoD has been using for
thirty years, and it can be dealt with by any program capable of
parsing XML. Open Office is a free suite (and works pretty well
on Windows and Mac OS X, and I gather also on Unix). There's
absolutely nothing confusing about it, and it will remain stable
for decades.

Now compare that with Microsoft, who update their standards
each version, making some older formats incompatible, who do
not make the specifications available to other vendors (who
therefore have to reverse engineer it) and whose formats are
getting dangerously bloated and insecure. With a text editor one
can find out in most cases who and when edited a file. Try that
for a public or legal document...

Microsoft can ***** all they like, but they have brought this on
themselves. When they announced XML support a while back,
everyone thought this was wonderful. Then we saw the DTD and
how they had made it nonstandard...
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't understand
I don't understand why any local or state government, or the federal govt for that matter, does not make the switch. Lets face it, the vast majority of MS Office users use the most basic capabilities of the software, ie. type a letter, make a spreadsheet or a power point presentation. OpenOffice.org does this for FREE!!!!, did I mention FREE!!!! Why should a govt pay hundreds of dollars per user for software when you can get software that does the same thing for FREE!!!! How is this a waste of tax money?
Posted by solvey (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't understand
I don't understand why any local or state government, or the federal govt for that matter, does not make the switch. Lets face it, the vast majority of MS Office users use the most basic capabilities of the software, ie. type a letter, make a spreadsheet or a power point presentation. OpenOffice.org does this for FREE!!!!, did I mention FREE!!!! Why should a govt pay hundreds of dollars per user for software when you can get software that does the same thing for FREE!!!! How is this a waste of tax money?
Posted by solvey (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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