Microsoft, Massachusetts Reach Accord on Office 2003

Microsoft has reached an agreement with Massachusetts that will result in the software giant easing its license restrictions for its Office 2003 document formats in return for the state dropping a previous requirement to only use document formats based on open standards. In early 2004, Massachusetts announced that it would require all state agencies to create and store information in document types based on open standards like HTML.

The goal of the format requirement was to ensure that the state could read digital documents in perpetuity and not have to worry about document conversions down the road if they adopted a format that was later abandoned by its maker. However, under terms of its agreement with Microsoft, Massachusetts has revised its requirement to include so-called "open formats" such as the XML-based document types supported by Office 2003 applications such as Word and Excel.

"\[Microsoft has told\] us recently \[that\] they're planning to modify \[the Office 2003 document\] license," said Eric Kriss, the secretary of administration and finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "If they're to do so, it is our expectation that when we issue the next iteration of standards, then Microsoft's proprietary formats will deemed to be open formats because there are no longer restrictions on use."

In addition to Microsoft's XML-based document formats, Massachusetts will also use the PDF format, which is owned and controlled by Adobe, as well as other common document words such as TXT and RTF. The change is a huge blow to open source advocates, who saw last year's Massachusetts open standards requirement announcement as a win for open source solutions such as Linux and OpenOffice.org. Worldwide, open source solutions have been gaining traction in many country and local governments, but they have yet to see much success in US governmental bodies.

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