Open XML Format To Be Reviewed By Massachusetts IT UnitOpen XML Format To Be Reviewed By Massachusetts IT Unit
The ECMA standard must be approved by the International Standards Organization before the state government could officially declare it as a standard that can be used to ensure that state documents are permanently preserved.
December 8, 2006
ECMA International's approval of Microsoft's Office Open XML formats submission is headed back to where much of the office software controversy originated -- in the Massachusetts Information Technology Division.
Following the standards organization's approval of the Microsoft proposal, Bethann Pepoli, acting director of the division, said the unit will review ECMA's examination of Microsoft's 6,000-page submission. In the meantime, the state government is committed to begin using the competing OpenDocument Format beginning Jan. 1. The ECMA standard must be approved by the International Standards Organization before the state government could officially declare it as a standard that can be used to ensure that state documents are permanently preserved. ISO approval, however, can take a long time and it isn't guaranteed -- at least not the same way that ECMA's endorsement was a foregone conclusion from the time the format was first submitted. "What happens next is that ECMA will submit Office Open XML for a much more complex approval process that will take from nine months to a year (at least)," said Andrew Updegrove, an attorney specializing in international standards, in his blog. The Initiative for Software Choice, a trade association, hailed the ECMA approval. "There is no downside here," said Melanie Wyne, ISC executive director, in a statement. "ECMA's action enhances document manipulation, interoperability, and archival storage for public and private institutions. The ECMA process also represents an important step toward expedited ratification by ISO, which will give governments and enterprises added assurance that Office Open XML meets the rigors of the evolving technological marketplace -- especially as it pertains to interoperability of documents between competing products," Wyne said. The current flap over XML formats began several months ago when the then Massachusetts ITD director, Peter Quinn, led the effort to establish ODF as the state's formal standard. Microsoft, which maintained that the ODF measure would unfairly exclude it from key parts of the state's software business, countered with its own format standards proposal to the ECMA. The overall upshot, says Sam Hiser, VP and director of business affairs at the Open Document Foundation, will be that IT organizations -- both governmental and business -- will eventually see more competition among software vendors. "If one day we have two ISO standards that do roughly the same things, then the marketplace will decide between basically a very expensive solution set where most of the costs are hidden and a relatively inexpensive set which will have much more confidence associated with users' access," he says. In addition to the ODF standard, already approved by the ISO, and Microsoft's Office Open XML format, various software translators and plug-ins are being developed that should spur interoperability among various software elements, Hiser notes. He cites the ODF Foundation's developing Plug-in for MS Office as well as a translator being created by French company Clever Age with Novell. Sun Microsystems, too, is developing a translator.
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