California Is The Latest State To Consider Move To Open Documents

While the precise format is not spelled out in the bill, the legislation would likely open the way for Open Document Format.
California has legislation before its State Assembly that would require state agencies to adopt an open document format for all government records. While the precise format is not spelled out in the bill, the legislation would likely open the way for the Open Document Format (ODF) that has been making inroads in government entities in recent weeks and months.

Introduced by Assemblyman Mark Leno, a Democrat, the bill is similar to legislation introduced recently in Texas and Minnesota.

"This bill," the proposed California legislation states, "would require all state agencies, beginning on or after January 1, 2008, to create, exchange, and preserve all documents ... in an open extensible markup language-based, XML-based, file format, and to start to become equipped to receive any document in an open, XML-based file format."

The legislation creates another challenge for Microsoft, which is promoting its Open XML format. Microsoft has complained that a requirement to use the ODF would unfairly lock it out of much business. Open XML is used in Microsoft's Office 2007 and in some earlier Microsoft Office iterations.

"CEOs and CIOs are discussing this [the formats issue] because of the new Vista and Office 2007," says Sam Hiser, VP and director of business affairs at the Open Document Foundation. "It's just such a commitment of money and a commitment of lock-in."

The move toward ODF began several months ago when Massachusetts raised the issue; the Bay State now requires the use of ODF, but it also allows translation software for Microsoft Office software.

In a recent open letter, Microsoft set forth its arguments on the issue. The letter states: "We believe that Open XML represents an exciting advance toward achieving the original vision of XML, where broad interoperability allows documents to be archived, restructured, aggregated, and reused in new and dynamic ways. We believe that Open XML can help spark an explosion of innovation and investment, which will bring benefits for customers in the years to come."

The software company noted that Corel and Novell have said they will implement Open XML support in their products.

While Microsoft has enlisted several firms, including Apple, to support it in the formats struggle, it has squared off with others, particularly IBM. "It is not a coincidence," Microsoft wrote in its open letter, "that IBM's Lotus Notes product, which IBM is actively promoting in the marketplace, fails to support the Open XML international standard."

IBM has countered that its support of the ODF standard provides more choices in applications for customers.