New York state to debate open document format legislation

A New York politician has launched a bill that would order the US state to examine a switch to open document formats for official business.


A New York politician has launched a bill that would order the US state to examine a switch to open document formats for official business.

RoAnn Destito, a Democratic Party member of the state’s Assembly has introduced the measure to the committee on governmental operations, which she chairs.

Destito said she was optimistic that the bill would escape the fate of similar attempts in five other US states, where similar measures have been defeated.

Moves towards open source software and open formats have also been made in Europe – often with more success. The French government has announced that it will make Paris a centre of excellence for open source software development.

The Belgian government has voted to adopt ODF, while authorities in Denmark are also evaluating the benefits of ODF. The city government in Amsterdam is currently testing open source desktop software, , while the German city of Munich is in the process of migrating desktop PCs to the Linux.

The bill is expected to come out of Destito committee by early next week and go to the state’s ways and means committee, where it must be approved before it can go to an Assembly-wide vote. That has to happen by 22 June, when the Assembly’s lawmaking session is closed for the year.

Bills mandating government agencies to switch to open document formats and away from proprietary formats, such as Microsoft Office, have been defeated in five US states, including Texas and California.

But a bill in Minnesota, which called for an examination of the open format option rather than mandating a switch straight away, was passed.

Destito said the fact that her bill was "not mandating anything but a study" of the feasibility of switching should lessen the political opposition. Destito has also already garnered the support of the state's recently appointed chief information officer, Melanie Mayberry-Stewart, who would be in charge of studying the issue.

"She didn't express any real opinion either way on open document formats, but she said had no problem with doing the study," Destito said.

Destito acknowledged that she became interested in open document formats after being approached by IBM, a major backer of ODF, about a year ago.

"Did they come and talk to me? Absolutely," she said. "But we were already looking at this as the next step in making sure that the information we have on our state websites is available to anyone, whatever software they are using."

Destito, who was first elected to her seat in 1992, says she is no technological neophyte. She helped create the state's Office of Technology earlier this decade, which she still helps oversee. She noted that the Assembly already used an open source web browser, Mozilla’s Firefox.

"This isn't against Microsoft. It's not pro-anybody," she said. "If people want to stay on Microsoft Office and use plug-ins [for converting files to different formats, as they are doing in Massachusetts], that would work."

"But the fact is that we do need to make sure our websites and state government are open to all citizenry," Destito continued. "It shouldn't be one software package or document format that is exclusive to the state."

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