Mass Plus ODF: A Winning Combination

Tuesday, 2007-January-02 at 00:27

Dave Gynn wrote an article in Mass High Tech last month. He is discussing the benefits that Massachusetts expects to gain through its adoption of the ISO-approved OASIS OpenDocument Format for office applications (ODF). He also points out how important it is for an open standard to have an open source reference implementation.

The primary driver behind the decision to move to a standard document format was a desire to address the system interoperability issue that plagues most IT departments, which consist of a large number of systems that are difficult to integrate. Customers have complained about this for years, but software vendors haven't been able to solve the problem other than to suggest buying all systems from a single vendor. By standardizing on a common document format, the state will ease interoperability issues and define how they want software vendors to support them on this problem.

The Java world has the open source Tomcat and Glassfish as the reference implementations of their particular Java standards. The Web world has a de facto reference implementation in the open source Apache, with 60 to 70% of all Web sites running on Apache software. And now the office suite world has ODF file formats, with an open source reference implementation in the suite of applications.

David Gardner writes in Information Week about the progress of a rival format toward also becoming an international ISO-approved standard. "The ECMA standard must be approved by the International Standards Organization before the state government could officially declare it as a standard that can be used to ensure that state documents are permanently preserved." The process could take up to a year, and approval is not guaranteed, according to Gardner.

The State of Massachusetts Information Technology Department site does not have any current status reports on the conversion process posted. That process is set to begin with some trial projects this month, with the full conversion starting later this year, providing accessibility tools for disabled users are far enough along to ensure that those users can also do their jobs.

The Blue Mass Group, which appears a political group, believes that MSFT may attempt to maneuver things in the back room before the final implementation date. I personally dislike anything to do with politics and politicians (an upcoming political discussion notwithstanding), and BMG has confused open standards with open source, but they do have a little bit of local insight to add to the conversation.

Jeff Kaplan feels that the recent ECMA rubber-stamping approval of OOXML is just going to confuse users, especially the clueless managers and politicians that actually decide what a company does or buys.

I noted in a recent CNET article
that Ecma's approval of ooXML will increase confusion in the
marketplace. Consumers and companies now face two different document
standards. One is a proprietary-encumbered standard, the other an open
standard. Both are endorsed by standards organizations and industry

The average person, even the average corporate customer
will be confused. And when it comes to technology, the uninformed are
easily abused. Politicians, often among the most technologically
challenged, are already being targeted. It’s about to get worse. A giant PR blitz is coming. Corporate commanders are fueling the FUD missiles.

ComputerWorld's Carol Sliwa records the political maneuvering going on in Massachusetts as Microsoft apologists sought to overturn the state's decision.

The topic of document formats may have an arcane air to it, but it
matters deeply to the world’s richest software company. Document
formats have played a critical role in helping Microsoft to secure and
maintain its dominance of the office-productivity applications market,
with more than 400 million users of its Office software worldwide.

“It wasn’t the only reason that people standardized on
Microsoft Office, but it was the main reason,” said Michael Silver, an
analyst at Gartner Inc.

Still, in my opinion, the important thing here is open standards which can be implemented by anyone at any time, whether their software will be open source or closed source. Without open standards, the Internet could not function. Simply put, ODF is a more open "open standard" than OOXML is, and more openness means more competition and more creative ways to use the file format to meet users' needs at a lower price.

I would ask a question of Brian Jones of MSFT: Why is it so important to your company that state governments (MA, MN, CA, in particular) not choose another format? Why can't you take three weeks with your programmers in Mumbai to fully implement built-in native ODF support in MSFT's office products? This is really not an open source versus proprietary issue here, as the state will purchase from IBM, Sun, Microsoft, or another vendor under a proprietary license. You are taking a potential win-win situation and making it a win-lose situation. Why would you risk one of only two money-making parts of the company when you could easily keep your position as the main software supplier to these state governments?

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Entry filed under: Accessibility, Computers, ODF, Society, Software, XML.

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