US state ditches Open Document Format plan

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a pioneer in state-backed efforts to support the Open Document Format (ODF) standard, has reversed course and decided to support Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format in addition to ODF and Adobe's PDF.

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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a pioneer in state-backed efforts to support the Open Document Format (ODF) standard, has reversed course and decided to support Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format in addition to ODF and Adobe's PDF.

In August of 2005 Massachusetts announced it would require government users to migrate away from closed document formats to open standards. At that time, it considered that PDF and ODF met the requirements of an open standard, but Microsoft's document formats did not.

Proponents of open formats welcomed this move at the time, arguing that only through competition could document interoperability and accessibility be ensured.

ODF backers argue that the format is better suited for keeping documents accessible over the long term, since it is simple and has been developed in an open community. The format also enables competition amongst different productivity programs, since it's supported by multiple applications - though Microsoft Office only supports ODF via an add-on.

ODF is backed by large companies such as IBM and Sun.

The state's Information Technology Division (ITD) made the change in the latest revision of the state's Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM), posted on the state's website on Monday.

Microsoft said the state's decision was positive and would give users the ability to choose the open file format most suitable for their needs.

Andy Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove and editor of the consortiuminfo.org Standards Blog, said Massachusetts' move was a serious setback for document format competition.

He said the backing of large buyers such as government bodies is needed if ODF is to become widely used and develop into a serious competitor to Microsoft's OOXML, also known as Ecma 376.

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