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Minnesota Considers Mandatory Use Of ODF

It's another state battle that pits Microsoft's proprietary Office software on one side against supporters of the OpenDocument Format on the other.

A bill "requiring state agencies to use open data formats" has been introduced in the Minnesota state legislature.

The legislation opens a second front in an ongoing battle over open standards and proprietary software that has pitted Microsoft's proprietary office software on one side against supporters of OpenDocument format (ODF) on the other.

Neither Microsoft nor ODF are mentioned in the bill, but the legislation could draw the two sides into a new battle, which has been waged for several months in the state of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts state government has said it will require the use of ODF beginning in 2007, but state officials have also indicated they could look favorably on Microsoft's Office 2007 when the software is ready.

The Minnesota Open Data Formats Bill, House File 3971, was introduced on March 27. Co-sponsor Representative Paul Thissen did not immediately respond to calls and e-mail messages.

Andrew Updegrove, an attorney supporting open formats, said the bill's definitions would be conducive to open source implementations of open standards. "The debate over open formats will now be ongoing in two U.S. states rather than one," he said in an e-mail. "If two states successfully adopt and implement open data format policies, other states will be more inclined to follow."

Updegrove said he had been informed that a consortium of Minnesota businesses and citizens is supporting the legislation.

Minnesota's Office of Enterprise Technology (OET) and the state's chief information officer would be charged with implementing the legislation, which hasn't yet been introduced in the Minnesota state senate.

The legislation proposes the use of open data formats throughout the agencies of the state government's executive branch.

Specifically, the bill states:

  • "The development of this information architecture must include the establishment of standards and guidelines to be followed by state agencies…

  • "The standards and guidelines much emphasize uniformity that is cost-effective for the enterprise, that encourages information interchange, open systems environments, and portability of information whenever practicable…

  • "The office (OET) shall assist state agencies to avoid the purchase or creation of data processing devices or systems that do not comply with open standards for the accessing, storing, or transferring of data…"
  • The bill calls for the establishment of an Internet site to make available documentation on open data formats. The legislation also proposes that in some circumstances open data formats would not be required.

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