Massachusetts Accepts Microsoft's OOXML
- By Peter Varhol
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
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
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.
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