Massachusetts: Open XML is A-OK

This week, the US state of Massachusetts officially ratified Microsoft's Office Open XML document formats as an acceptable document format for office productivity applications alongside the open source Open Document Format (ODF). Massachusetts says it is moving towards open, XML-based document formats to ensure that it is not overly reliant on commercial software vendors in the future and can always access official state documents. The state believes that Microsoft's Office Open XML formats meet these needs.

Before arriving at this conclusion, the state reviewed almost 500 comments from individuals and organizations, most of whom complained about Massachusetts adopting the Microsoft formats. According to Henry Dormitzer, the Massachusetts Undersecretary of Administration and Finance, however, The Open XML formats, like ODF, are "appropriately handled through the standards setting process" and meet the state's previously-announced requirements. More important, perhaps, the use of Open XML allows Massachusetts workers to continue using Microsoft Office, a suite of productivity applications that are well-known and liked, and provide all of the functionality they need, along with seamless Open XML compatibility.

As Massachusetts notes, it is the first US state to adopt an official policy about open document formats, and its struggles with Microsoft, which ultimately led to the company open up Open XML in part so that Massachusetts would continue using Office, have been closely watched by other states and organizations.

"The Executive Office for Administration and Finance, Information Technology Division \[in Massachusetts\] articulates a vision of a Service Oriented Architecture where information can be shared, re-used and re-purposed based on XML technologies," Dormitzer and acting CIO Bethann Pepoli write in a public statement issued yesterday. "Document formats play a part in this vision by serving as containers for the information rather than being the end goal. The availability of open, standardized XML document formats without vendor bias will move us further along in realizing this vision."

It should be noted that while Microsoft originally developed the Open XML in-house, these file formats are now controlled by a standards community that answers to Ecma International. It's likely that most of those in Massachusetts who complained about Open XML adoption there were unaware of this relationship.

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