Mass. to Dump Microsoft Office by 2007

Massachusetts is moving forward with a plan to transition from proprietary document formats to XML-based open standards. But the latest draft of the proposal includes one notable change: Microsoft Office is no longer considered an open format and thus is not sanctioned for use.

Two years ago, Massachusetts officials embarked on an ambitious project to promote the use of open source and open standards software within the state government. The goal was to save money that would have been spent licensing expensive proprietary software and ensure interoperability between agencies.

"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 are fully documented and publicly available," reads the guidelines.

Massachusetts chose the OpenDocument format as suitable for use, and will require all office applications to support the standard. OpenDocument, otherwise known as the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications, is supported by OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace.

The commonwealth established a deadline of January 1, 2007 for migrating to applications that work with OpenDocument. "Any acquisition of new office applications must support the OpenDocument standard," the policy says.

Microsoft Office 2003 -- by far the most popular office suite used by the majority of businesses and governments -- would not be acceptable under the new rules. In January, Microsoft endeavored to strike a deal with Massachusetts that would recognize Office 2003 as an "open standard."

Office 2003 is based on XML, but the format uses proprietary schemas that are guarded under complex Microsoft licenses. Redmond's chief XML architect Jean Paoli attempted to appease Massachusetts in an open letter issued in January.

"We are acknowledging that end users who merely open and read government documents that are saved as Office XML files within software programs will not violate the license," Paoli said.

The move seemed to work, and Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Eric Kriss said that Microsoft has "made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe, if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about...the next iteration of the Open Format standard will include some Microsoft proprietary formats."

But the latest draft specification, which is available for review until September 9, makes no mention of Microsoft - except acknowledging that the migration will not be easy.

"Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable," the specification reads.

Adobe's PDF format will be allowed, although the version of PDF used must support XML.

In a statement, Massachusetts' chief information officer, Peter Quinn, hinted that discussions with industry representatives may have swayed the commonwealth away from Microsoft formats.

"These discussions have centered on open formats particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative "openness" of the format options available to us," Quinn said.

"This new draft version...identifies the newly ratified OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) as our standard for office documents."

Microsoft could, however, receive a reprieve when it launches Office 12 in late 2006. The new suite will be based around completely new file formats dubbed Open Office XML, which are fully documented and royalty free. Although Micorsoft's formats will not be defined by a standards body, Microsoft's Paoli told BetaNews, "It can be used by and interoperable with others."

Paoli added that it was too early to say whether or not Office 12 will support the OASIS OpenDocument standard.

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