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Massachusetts Accepts Microsoft's OOXML

After a long-running controversy surrounding the statewide requirements for document formats, Massachusetts has added Microsoft's format, also known as ECMA-376 or Office Open XML (OOXML), to the list of approved standards in the state's Enterprise Technical Reference Model. This represents a reversal of the state's previous position regarding document formats for state documents, and a significant victory for Microsoft in propagating its own standards in official documents.

The controversy began a year and a half ago, when Massachusetts Department of Information Technology CIO Peter Quinn proposed the use of the OASIS OpenDocument format as the standard document format for state documents. Because this department sets IT policy for state offices as a whole, such a move would mandate an Open XML standard for documents statewide.

But Quinn wasn't able to gain a consensus for that decision in a highly charged atmosphere. Amid assertions that he didn't properly coordinate such a position, Quinn resigned in January 2006. His replacement, Louis Gutierrez, then resigned in October 2006, a move that was widely seen as a setback for the use of the OpenDocument format in government documents.

The latest news indicates that OOXML will gradually replace the Microsoft Word binary format (which is proprietary) as the primary format for use within state agencies.

In effect, this decision means that Massachusetts can continue using Microsoft Office in the creation and distribution of documents.

Some criticize this development as a continued reliance on the Microsoft Office proprietary formats for government documents. Redmond's involvement in this controversy has also come under criticism, as the company has been accused of exerting undue influence on the state policy for its own benefit. In fairness to Microsoft, most agencies use Microsoft Office, and retraining to another document package would likely be costly.

Microsoft Office 2003, currently deployed by the majority of government agencies in Massachusetts, will support the use of the OpenDocument format documents through translation software. It will also support the OOXML format through the use of the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack.

Several other states have attempted to mandate the use of the OASIS OpenDocument format for government documents, so far unsuccessfully.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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