Mass. revises technical reference model

Massachusetts has issued a draft of its enterprise technical reference model. Since its introduction in 2005, the reference has been a lightning rod for controversy because of its insistence that state offices use the OpenDocument format (ODF), an open-standard document format that uses Extensible Markup Language.

The revision, Version 4.0, broadens the earlier decree, letting state offices know that they can use either ODF or Microsoft's more recently introduced Office Open XML (OOXML). Both are open formats.

"This development is not a surprise to those that have been tracking the situation closely but will be a disappointment to ODF proponents," said standards attorney Andrew Updegrove in a statement.

In addition to those two formats, the document also specified agencies could use plain ASCII text, Rich Text Format (RTF), Hypertext Markup Language (used for Web pages) and PDF

"All agencies are expected to migrate away from proprietary, binary office document formats to open, XML-based office document formats," the specification stated. "The Commonwealth defines open formats as specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, affirmed and maintained by a standards body and'fully documented and publicly available,"

In 2005, the state's then-Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn indicated two reasons behind the move to ODF: It would allow the state to better keep permanent records, and it would allow documents to be shared across more applications more easily.

The action, however, raised considerable controversy. For office productivity tasks, most of Massachusetts' agencies used a version of Microsoft Office, which at the time did not offer the ability to save documents in ODF. Consequently, Microsoft executives saw the decision to use ODF as a move to lock Microsoft out of the acquisition process, and ODF advocates saw Microsoft's lobbying as an effort to continue its dominance of the market for office productivity software.

Subsequently, Microsoft submitted its own XML-based format, OOXML, to the Ecma standards body, where it was approved as a standard. It currently is going through approval as an ISO standard. It is also the default file format for the latest version of Microsoft Office.

'We are encouraged by today's positive developments in Massachusetts. 'Standards used by governments to improve [information technology] for citizens and agencies should remain technologically neutral and be flexible," Melanie Wyne, executive director of the Initiative for Software Choice, said in a written statement. ISC has supported Microsoft's efforts to offset the growing tendency for states efforts to adopt ODF as a mandatory standard, either through policy or legislation.

The state will take comments on the draft until July 20.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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