July 2, 2007 10:17 AM PDT

Microsoft document formats gain Mass. favor

Massachusetts has proposed changing its standards policy to make room for Microsoft Office document formats.

The state's Information Technology Division on Monday posted a draft proposal, part of a periodic revision to its overall technical architecture, to its Web site where it will be under review until July 20.

If accepted, the policy update would list Office Open XML as acceptable "open formats" for use by executive-branch state agencies. Office Open XML, also referred to as Ecma-376, are the XML-based file formats in Office 2007 that Microsoft standardized at Ecma International late last year.

Another proposed change to the policy would make the most recent version of OpenDocument Format for Office Applications--another standardized document format--acceptable under the state's guidelines.

Massachusetts caused a stir among governments and the technology industry nearly two years ago when it mandated the use of "open formats" in desktop applications.

At that time, only OpenDocument Format, or ODF, met the state IT department's definition of an open standard, which was not supported in Microsoft Office.

Since then, however, Microsoft has submitted its Open XML file formats to Ecma, where they were certified as a standard. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which holds significant weight with governments around the world, is currently weighing whether to accept Office Open XML as a standard.

Using the "translator"
According to its latest policy proposal, Massachusetts' state agencies can now use applications that comply with Open XML file formats as well as ODF, PDF and other accepted standards.

"All agencies are expected to migrate away from proprietary, binary office document formats to open, XML-based office document formats. Microsoft Office 2003, currently deployed in the majority of agencies, will support the Open XML format through the use of the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack," according to the draft policy.

Bethann Pepoli, Massachusetts' acting chief information officer, said that state agencies will be able to choose which formats they create and save documents in.

But those agencies will be keeping its current application suite--Microsoft Office--on its 50,000 desktops because it's the only product that addresses the needs of people with disabilities, she said.

"The biggest objective is to make as many options as possible open to agencies," Pepoli said. "We feel like this is the best approach to getting all the agencies in the executive department to an XML-based document format--that's pretty much the motivator."

The Information Technology Division also lists the latest version of OpenDocument, which improves the accessibility of documents for people with disabilities, as an option for state agencies.

Because no applications that support OpenDocument natively offer sufficient accessibility support, the state has decided to use a "translator" that converts Microsoft Office documents to OpenDocument formats.

"Agencies will have the ability to use either ODF or Open XML with their current version of Microsoft Office by installing the Sun (Microsystems) converter along with the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack," according to the policy.

The choice of document standards by government customers has been marked by intense lobbying from Microsoft, IBM and others because document formats can affect desktop application purchases. Several government customers, particularly in Europe, have added OpenDocument to their list of approved standards or have started migrations to Microsoft Office alternatives that use OpenDocument.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft said it was pleased with the proposed Massachusetts policy changes.

"We support the Commonwealth's proposal to add Ecma Office Open XML File Formats to the list of approved standards, as this would give users the ability to choose the open file format standard that best serves their needs," said Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards.

IBM, for its part, made it clear that its employees intend to argue against the inclusion of Office Open XML. Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of open source and standards, noted that the Massachusetts draft policy characterizes Open XML as a format best for backward compatibility with Microsoft Office documents.

"We completely agree: ooXML looks backward, while ODF is an international ISO standard, and is forward looking. The public understands this, too, as nearly 15,000 people opposing ooXML have signed an online petition circulated by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure. We look forward to seeing the public discussion in the Commonwealth," Sutor said in a statement.

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OpenDocument Format, agency, XML, Massachusetts, Microsoft Office

85 comments

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A good, evolving policy
Looks like the state is moving in the right direction. Four years ago it was an open source preference policy (regardless of what of state officials tried to disbuse the industry of). Now, it's looking more open, holistic.

Good movement here for taxpayers, agencies and the industry! Limiting choice does just that - limit choice. And, thankfully, other policymakers, states and nations see that, too. ODF-only policy is a brownfield, not a greenfield.
Posted by mwendy (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
nope
This just sounds backwards to me. The idea was to get away from
vendor lockdown, to allow documents to be opened and viewed
with something other than M$ products. So how is it forward
looking to allow a proprietary product into the mix again? Just
because M$ threw enough money around to quickly get a stamp of
"open" on their proprietary and incompatable format?

M$ is the one limiting choice here, they are the ones who decided
their programs won't work well with others.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Might as well bring out a new HTML
Standards are very good. Once you rely on proprietary formats, then you are held to ransom. Companies who own these formats will extract as much as they can from their customers. When no more can be had, they will force upgrades on you.

Doesn't anyone learn from history?
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Link Flag
Um...
You do know that ODF is not open-source, right? It's an open standard. Anyone can implement it. In fact, you can get StarOffice or Lotus right now if you don't want open-source products.

The whole "ODF policy favors open-source" is a Microsoft marketing campaign designed to do exactly what it's done here, trick people into thinking that the decision to use ODF is locking Microsoft out intentinally. In fact, ODF isn't locking anyone out; it is Microsoft who chooses to lock themselves out of the market by refusing to provide ODF support in Office.
Posted by DarkPhoenixFF4 (206 comments )
Link Flag
This is the real issue
Windows is already irrelevent. This is the real issue. If ms office file formats were open then who would pay $100 for a word processor?
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Windows is already irrelevent?
Sure why not. Can I just have one days worth of those irrelevent sales........I would retire the next day.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
Link Flag
Horribly inferior != irrelevant
People are just stupid sometimes. Yes, I wish Microsoft and Adobe and them were irrelevant too.

Microsoft is doing better with those open standards, though. That silverlight not being proprietary will completely kill flash over the next year, hopefully...

Me and my fellow hackers will see to it. And thank you for the direct neglect to our platform, M$. We wanted our own implementation anyway. They're getting smarter.
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Link Flag
Why...
... the rush by Massachusetts to "proposed changing its standards policy to make room for Microsoft Office document formats" when the "International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which holds significant weight with governments around the world, is currently weighing whether to accept Office Open XML as a standard...". Will not these action by Massachusetts give rise to the rest of the world of possibly foregone conclusion/approval by "The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)"!!!.
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ISO specs != State Law
An ISO standard (or any standard from any standards body, for that matter) do not have any impact on laws and policies in government and business. All standards are optional until mandated through law or policy. So, that's why Mass. must do something for the benefit of its state.
Posted by paulej (1261 comments )
Link Flag
Better title ...
A better article title would have been "Massachusetts snatches defeat from the jaws of victory."

Now the fight will be at the next level, where compatibility is the problem.
Posted by justice007 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very, Very True!
>>>"Now the fight will be at the next level (and; at the I-N-T-E-R-N-A-T-I-O-N-A-L one at that), where compatibility is the problem."<<<; read the below attached:

Re: Concerning the issues with 1-2-3 that are talked about in the documentation you gave me, most of the issues are related to converting files between older and newer versions of product and converting documents between Lotus and Microsoft. Anytime a file is saved backwards or saved with an older file format than the format the file was created under, such as saving a 1-2-3 , 97 file for Windows 95 into a WK1 format for DOS, then naturally we are expected to loose certain features due to technology and features that are present now that were not present 8 - 10 years ago. Similarly, if we try to convert a file from Lotus into Excel or Excel into Lotus, due to differences in the products not every feature will be converted perfectly with the file filters that are available. Both Lotus and Microsoft create similar spreadsheet programs; however, there are several differences in both programs and these differences will remain to distinguish the products apart. We do try to design conversion filters that will allow as much of the file formats as possible to be exchanged and converted without disrupting the actual file design and format.

In one of your letters you made mention of the @IRR and @ERR functions in the 1-2-3 product. By design the @IRR (notably "absent" in Open Office) will calculate the Internal Rate of Return; where the @ERR is used in conjunction with other formulas, posted was an "ERR" showing an error was received in the calculations. As far as I can see in the program I cannot find an @ERR function that will allow us to calculate an Economic Rate of Return"
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
Did someone make some political contributions?
Any time politicians make bad decisions that make big corporations happy, I'm suspicious.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Perhaps...
... there are folks in the State of Massachusetts looking into crystal balls; and, whom have informed decision-makers responsible for "executive-branch state agencies" that the decision at "The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)" on whether or not "to accept Office Open XML as a standard" is a done deal!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
Pathetic
Microsoft is not open and never will be.
They are proprietary so they can control. Mass is either stupid, or they got some financial benefits.

Either way, something is wrong.

The future is the Internet and the Internet is about open standards that everyone can use for all time.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
YEA!!!!! THE SWITCH TO A DEMOCRAT GOVERNOR
AFTER ALMOST 10 YEARS HAS FINALLY PAID OFF.
Posted by JCPayne (820 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better But Not Great - Especially for Small Businesses
It is better in that it recognizes there are many formats deserving of consideration, including Rich Text Format, OpenXML, and the newest versions of the Open Document Format (ODF) and Portable Document Format (PDF).

HOWEVER, the one real limitation to the policy is the rigid definition of ?open standard? used in the ETRM. The policy limits the Commonwealth?s choices to ?open standards,? when the goals could be achieved with merely ?open formats.? While small firms are often willing to open up their formats and technologies, they often do not have the political clout to move their formats through an open standards body the way IBM, Sun, and Microsoft have done. Yet, these small firm technologies may better meet the needs of the Commonwealth and individual agencies.
Posted by blafkinm (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Open means just that
An open standard is one that is not controlled by a single corporation(don't kid yourself, only MS has a say), and can be implemented by anyone, royalty free.

The laughably misnamed OpenXML fails to be a truly open standard. In fact it is not a standard by any rational definition.

This is a bad move.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
Link Flag
Clue
margaret coakley
Posted by Sumatra-Bosch (526 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Clue: Mass AG Was Keynote at MS Email Conference
Mass AG Margaret Coakley was a keynote at the Microsoft conference in Boston this spring.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.aotalliance.org/summit2007/" target="_newWindow">http://www.aotalliance.org/summit2007/</a>

The one executive officer of the state who should be on guard against monopoly power being used to distort and control markets showed up to drink MS's cool-aid at their own conference.

This is the real story. How did MS get to AG Coakley? Was she used as a referral in the state's decision? Did the state offices charged with making this decision keep records of how the decision was reached and were any MS personnel or contractors consulted? Was Coakley consulted?

Roberto
Posted by Sumatra-Bosch (526 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Interoperability Issues Anyone!
The gut feeling is; before the end of the week (following closely behind this article) one can bet the farm that there will be an article on CNET NEWS about the European Commission (EU) going Microsoft for fines if those "interoperability issues" have not yet been cleared up. Wanna bet anyone!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linux envy
You are just jealous that Linux has so many word processors available that they support all known open document formats.

Don't worry:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ecomstation.com/news.phtml?action=fullnews&#38;id=2230&#38;title=OpenOffice.org%202.0.4%20GA%20available" target="_newWindow">http://www.ecomstation.com/news.phtml?action=fullnews&#38;id=2230&#38;title=OpenOffice.org%202.0.4%20GA%20available</a>

OpenOffice.Org was ported to OS/2 eComStation, just download it and use the open document formats that it uses.
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
Link Flag
ODT and PDF are the winners
Open Office (*.odt) has a far greater international acceptance than Microsoft's offerings.

I'll stick with ODT for inter-operability and PDF for distribution.
Posted by TreknologyNet (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
>>>"ODT and PDF are the winners"<<<!!! Wrong!
The real "winners" will be the users (all over the world) of "Standardised Office" products and real "arbiter" will be the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and not you!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
IBM (democrat) vs Microsoft (republican)
Massschuset is the home state of IBM. So this is really a battle between IBM vs Microsoft. If IBM wins, people will buy IBM servicing, and if Microsoft wins, people will buy Microsoft software.

In private sector, politics do not play a role, so people buy software based on their feature and price. In goverments, it is dependent on lobbying. If IBM make more political contributions, goverments will favor IBM. If Microsoft makes more, it will favor Microsoft. Forget about good vs evil, this is really money vs money. In this case, IBM is on offensive, since IBM tried to ask govenment to ban Microsoft product, but Microsoft did not ask govement to exclusively use its product.

If you are really fan of Open source, you should praise the Chniese govement as it tries to push for Linux. This is because there are some local vendors in China that sell Linux. By using Linux, Chines govement don't have to pay an American company (Microsoft) for the OS.
Posted by fc11 (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
>>>"In this case,...
... IBM is on offensive, since IBM tried to ask government to ban Microsoft product, but Microsoft did not ask government to exclusively use its product. If you are really fan of Open source, you should praise the Chinese government as it tries to push for Linux. This is because there are some local vendors in China that sell Linux. By using Linux, Chinese government don't have to pay an American company (Microsoft) for the OS". In all the cases, the right "Services" Teams (whether it is aiding the Russians (like the former Bush Administration) or the North Koreans, Chinese...) win; because, as the Clinton Administration once said; "It Is The Economy..... always!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
History Has A Way Of repeating Itself!
Composite Applications in the "future" anyone? Then, here is a reminder of the foundation that was laid for you in "OpenDoc in Warp 4.0":

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.os2ezine.com/v1n13/opendoc.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.os2ezine.com/v1n13/opendoc.htm</a>

How far do the apples fall from the trees? So, are there any "farms" to bet as to which "Standardised Office Technologies" will be the winner!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OpenDOC how successful it was
NOT!

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://developer.apple.com/documentation/macos8/Legacy/OpenDoc/opendoc.html" target="_newWindow">http://developer.apple.com/documentation/macos8/Legacy/OpenDoc/opendoc.html</a>

Apple developed it, IBM picked it up, it gave both of them black eyes from the experience.
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
Link Flag
Accessibility Issues?
There's been reviews placing OpenOffice even with Microsoft on PC's but ahead of Microsoft on Mac's. Why allow these statements to go unchallenged?
Posted by matthewboh (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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