Mass. Pleased with Microsoft's Progress

Microsoft's decision to submit its forthcoming Office Open XML format to European standards organization Ecma International seems to have done the trick: Massachusetts says it expects the new version of Microsoft Office to meet its "open format" requirement.

The Massachusetts plan, which was finalized in September, calls for all electronic documents created after January 1, 2007 to utilize only formats deemed "open," which include OpenDocument and Adobe's PDF. OpenDocument is the centerpiece in the new OpenOffice.org 2.0 release, but is not supported by Microsoft Office.

Microsoft heavily criticized the decision, and Secretary of State William Galvin also expressed concern alongside Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco. Pacheco held a hearing to discuss potential negative implications of moving to OpenDocument, but Governor Mitt Romney has remained adamant about moving forward with the change.

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But now, it seems Massachusetts may be warming up to the idea of keeping Microsoft Office around. And Redmond officials surely won't complain about a statewide upgrade to Office 12 in order to use the new formats. Older versions of MS Office will support Office Open XML through a downloadable add-on.

The news comes just days after Microsoft announced it would push to make Office Open XML a ratified ECMA standard. The move, which is backed by Apple, Intel and Toshiba, stands in stark contrast to statements made by the company earlier this year. Senior XML Architect Jean Paoli told BetaNews that Microsoft would not be taking the standards route.

In a statement issued shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, Massachusetts state secretary of administration and finance Thomas Trimarco indicated that Microsoft's change of heart was agreeable to the Commonwealth. Trimarco is tasked with working out implementation details of the transition.

"The commonwealth is very pleased with Microsoft's progress in creating an open document format. If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats," Trimarco said.

Senator Pacheco also recommended that Microsoft Office be deemed acceptable if Office Open XML is certified by Ecma. "If you have a product that's going to be accepted in the international community, and they still exclude it here, then it's really about restricting Microsoft and not about open standards," he said.

OpenDocument backer Sun Microsystems, however, warned about taking Microsoft's moves at face value. "Standardization of the Microsoft formats will be of no real benefit unless they are also freed from intellectual-property encumbrances, so that all developers are free to work with them, including Open-Source developers."

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