Massachusetts Forges Ahead With ODF Implementations

The state's OpenDocument Format adoption was recently thrown into question when naysayers questioned whether the standard provides adequate PC accessibility to disabled people.

Barbara Darrow, Contributor

August 25, 2006

3 Min Read

Massachusetts will start rolling out the Open Document Format (ODF) in a handful of "early adopter" agencies by January 1, 2007, according to a statement released this week by the state's Information Technology Division.

ODF adoption was thrown in question when naysayers maintained that it did not provide adequate PC accessibility to disabled people.

In late June, State Senator Marc Pacheco issued a report condemning the ITD's decision to move to ODF.

ITD said the migration was necessary to assure that documents and data are transferable between heterogeneous systems and generations of software.

Critics said the use of Microsoft Office applications locked the agencies into a one-vendor solution because of file incompatibilities with outside programs. In the past, there were even incompatibilities between various versions of Office.

Microsoft addressed that issue by promising a "save to PDF" and "save to ODF" features in the upcoming Office 2007. After protests from Adobe, Microsoft agreed to pull the "save to PDF" feature and offer it as a download instead.

Microsoft now has beta converters out to let those with Office 2000, XP and 2003 users to save to the Open XML default formats, a company spokeswoman said.

Pacheco had advocated a delay to the state's Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM), basically a proof of concept period from the January 1, 2007 date.

In the mid-year statement on ODF released on Wednesday, Massachusetts Chief Information Officer Louis Gutierrez said that the implementation will use translator technology plugged into Microsoft Office. Select "early adopter agencies" will include the Massachusetts Office on Disability.

"Thereafter, we plan to migrate all Executive Department agencies to compliance with the standard, in phases, by June of 2007," he said. That schedule could change based on many factors, including adoption by OASIS of the ODF Version 1.1 proposed standard. That standard addresses minor accessibility issues in the translators, Gutierrez wrote.

Not surprisingly, the Open Document Alliance lauded Massachusetts' stick-to-it-ive-ness. And "hailed progress in incorporating accessibility into the ODF standard." The Washington D.C.-based alliance members include Sun Microsystems, Google and other non-Microsoft players

ODF has been a hot potato for Massachusetts for years now—and the subject of some furious Microsoft lobbying efforts. In Late 2005, the state appeared to flip flop, saying that if Microsoft followed through on its own Office Open XML plans, they would satisfy the state's requirements for open data and file interchange.

The Office Open XML proposal is now before the ECMA standards body. ECMA's technical committee is expected to submit the standard to the general body for a final vote at the organization's September meeting. If all goes well, the standard could be in place by year's end.

Eric Kriss, the former secretary of the state's administration and finance office was a big proponent of moving the state to open systems standards in the fall of 2003. When Kriss departed late last year, it appeared that the ODF movement in the state government lost its chief supporter.

In May, IBM jumped on the bandwagon, promising ODF support in its Notes client.

Meanwhile Microsoft is pushing its own interoperability solution, maintaining that its own Open Office XML format meets the requirement for open systems. And the Open Document Foundation last spring announced its own ODF plug in for Office.

This story was updated with information on Office 2003 and Office XP options.

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