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7/2/2007
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Massachusetts Opens The Door To Microsoft In Office Formats Battle

Previously, the Massachusetts ITD stood by the Open Document Foundation's office format.

The Massachusetts State Information Technology Division (ITD), which ignited a worldwide battle over XML formats standards, released a draft measure on Monday that includes Microsoft's controversial OOXML format.

The action, which was not unexpected, backs Microsoft in its effort to garner support to establish its Microsoft Office platform as a software standard.

In a posting on this week's ITD home page the state IT unit said it "is soliciting public comment on the Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) v. 4.0." The Massachusetts ITD launched the formats battle in August 2005, taking Microsoft by surprise as the state supported the ODF office format, which was supported by the Open Document Foundation

"This development is not a surprise to those that have been tracking the situation closely, but will be a disappointment to ODF proponents," said Andrew Updegrove, a Boston attorney who has supported the ODF position, in an e-mail. "But behind the scenes, Microsoft has continued to apply unrelenting pressure on the ITD. And, arguably, OOXML now meets the test originally employed by the ITD in 2005 to accept ODF and [Adobe's] PDF but not OOXML."

The move by the ITD was hailed by the Initiative for Software Group, an industry association that supports Microsoft's stance in the issue. In a statement, the association's executive director, Melanie Wyne, said: "We are encouraged by today's positive developments in Massachusetts. They signal in our minds acceptance of an argument we've long advocated -- standards used by governments to improve IT for citizens and agencies should remain technologically neutral, and be flexible. Massachusetts' new policy looks to be stepping in this direction."

The move was also hailed by an IBM executive who has spearheaded much of the ODF effort. "The Commonwealth has it exactly right, as it describes OOXML as being an ECMA-dictated format, and developed solely to 'ensure the highest levels of fidelity with legacy documents created in proprietary Microsoft Office binary document formats,'" said Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of open source and standards, in an e-mail.

"We completely agree: OOXML looks backward, while ODF is an international ISO standard, and is forward looking. ... We look forward to seeing the public discussion in the Commonwealth."

The office software standards battle has extended beyond individual states to international standards bodies with the ODF standard obtaining endorsement from the International Standards Organization (ISO) and Microsoft seeking endorsement from the ECMA standards body. While many firms have lined up with IBM and Sun Microsystems in favor of the ODF standard, Microsoft said it has garnered support from others including Apple and the U.S. Library of Congress.

Editor's Note: The Library of Congress said on July 6 that it does not support Microsoft in the formats controversy and issued the following statement: "The Library of Congress, as the national library, is invited to many technology conferences. Our attendance at any particular event should no be construed as an endorsement of the event, a commercial product or any position that may be held by an event's organizer or its participants. It is not true that the Library of Congress supports the Microsoft Open XML format over the ODF format. We have taken no position on this issue."

Open XML, which is supported by Microsoft and is the default format for its new Microsoft Office 2007, is available for past Microsoft Office versions. The ODF format is supported by the OpenOffice.org, which supplies free office software developed by Sun Microsystems and other vendors.

In a statement on the home page of Massachusetts state acting CIO Bethann Pepoli, the ITD said, "This major release of the ETRM updates content published in version 3.6, introduces the new Management Domain, enhances the ETRM's format for accessibility and usability as well as provides additions and updates to existing language specifications."

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