Massachusetts to OK Open XML

The ongoing drama in Massachusetts is petering out in predictable fashion this month after the state revealed that it will almost certainly adopt Microsoft's new Open XML document formats, ending the threat that it will drop Microsoft Office. Two years ago, the state announced that it would drop Microsoft's popular Office suite out of concerns that it would not support open formats needed to keep official documents freely available in perpetuity.

In 2005, Massachusetts revealed that it would move all official state documents to the Open Document Format (ODF), which had been standardized. But the move meant that the state's workers could no longer use the widely-adopted Microsoft Office suite, because Microsoft's software was incompatible with ODF.

After petitioning the state, Microsoft responded by offering to release its Open XML document format as an open standard, and in 2006, Open XML was standardized by ECMA International. (The International Organization for Standardization, ISO, is currently considering whether to certify Open XML as well.) Microsoft also helped in the creation of an ODF add-on for Microsoft Office, so that those who wished to use the rival format could still do so with Office.

This week, the standoff appears to be winding down. While some state offices have already moved to ODF, the Massachusetts CIO has published a call for public comment on the state's decision to approve Microsoft's Open XML as well. If it passes muster by July 20, as is expected, Microsoft will have defeated one of the most high profile threats to its Office dominance. The software giant has also been successful overcoming similar complaints in Florida, Texas, California, Oregon, and Connecticut, all of which announced their intentions to use open document formats in the wake of the 2005 Massachusetts controversy.

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