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OpenDocument Software Gains Momentum

Texas and Minnesota are the latest government entities considering the ODF standard as a replacement to Microsoft Office formats.

Texas and Minnesota's willingness to adopt the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as a statewide standard for office software may prompt other states to seriously consider alternatives to Microsoft's products.

Recent bills submitted to the Texas and Minnesota state legislature follow a similar plan by the state of Massachusetts, whose move to adopt ODF originated in the state's IT operation.

"It's spreading," said Sam Hiser, vice president and director of business affairs at the Open Document Foundation Inc. "First it was Massachusetts. Now it's Texas and Minnesota. And there are other states we haven't heard from yet."

In an interview on Wednesday, Hiser also noted some states in the Northeast and West are looking hard at adopting open XML-based file formats in opposition to Microsoft's dominant Office software.

Although the Texas measure and Minnesota moves don't specify ODF in their legislation, legislators from both states have said ODF is the likely designated file format. In Texas, the state's Department of Information Resources has been directed to produce a file formats plan by September 1, 2008, while the Minnesota move to the new file format is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2008.

In the past, Microsoft has complained that the move to ODF unfairly shuts its software out by mandating one standard. Microsoft has produced a conversion product called Open Translator as an add-on to its Word software. The software giant has also petitioned the International Standards Organization (OSI) for approval of its XML version called OpenXML. ODF has already received approval of its file format from the ISO.

The debate over file formats has often been lost in arcane wordage difficult for many to understand. After the issue rattled around legislative, business, and political circles in Minnesota for several months, the state finally developed a relatively simple and clear description of its approach to the office file format issue:

"Effective July 1, 2008, all documents including text, spreadsheets, and presentations of the state of Minnesota shall be created, exchanged, maintained, and preserved in an open, XML-based file format, as specified by the chief information office of the state," Minnesota's "Preservation of State Documents Act" states.

Hiser said the movement to ODF is spreading particularly to states with deep experience with Linux and other open source software, a trend he hopes will include considering other open file formats.

Passage of a bill fully adopting ODF as a state standard in both Texas and Minnesota ultimately requires a governor's signature. Both bills could become laws before the end of the year.

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