In recent days Massachusetts has softened its tough stance on what file formats it will store its documents in — a stance that placed it squarely at loggerheads with Microsoft — but, according to one state legislator, the software giant should not start breathing easy yet.
The policy adopted by the state contains a standard within a standard, asserted Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton), chairman of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.
“It sets forth under its wording language that would essentially still preclude Microsoft,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“One has to question if this is about open document standards or is it about an exclusionary policy so that some people can’t play in the system,” he said.
Microsoft Goes Open Source
Pacheco has been a critic of a policy adopted in September requiring all state agencies to standardize by Jan. 1, 2007 on the so-called OpenDocument format (ODF), an open source format that uses the XML markup language.
The policy could jeopardize the use of Microsoft software products in the state because they do not support ODF.
However, last week, Microsoft announced it was proposing its own open-source format — Office XML — which will be supported by the next version of its office suite product — Office 12.
“We are going to bring the Microsoft Office Open XML formats to a standards body with the intention of eventually making the formats an ISO standard,” Brian Jones, Microsoft’s program manager for Office, wrote on his blog on Nov. 21. “This should really help everyone feel certain that these formats will always be available and fully accessible.”
Mutual Admiration Society
Microsoft’s move toward an open standard was applauded by the Massachusetts Secretary for Administration and Finance Tom Trimarco. In a statement sent to TechNewsWorld in a Microsoft Word document, the secretary observed:
“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.”
In an e-mail to TechNewsWorld, Alan Yates, general manager for Microsoft Information Worker Strategy praised the Bay State’s attitude adjustment.
“We’re very pleased with the Finance Secretary’s positive comments regarding our efforts around Office Open XML.,” he said. “We look forward to providing additional details to the Commonwealth and a continuing positive dialog around open standards and Microsoft Office.”
Whether or not Microsoft has seen the open source light on this issue, though, remains to be seen, according to Tim Bray, director of web technologies for Sun Microsystems and one of the inventors of XML.
“We don’t know what Office XML looks like yet,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The world really hasn’t seen it.
“I suspect that the prospects for it being open are a lot better this week than they were last week what with what Microsoft’s been saying,” he added. “But everything is still in the future tense.”
He also observed that Microsoft has set an ambitious timetable for itself for getting Office XML adopted as a standard before Office 12 is released next year.
“I’ve been in this business for 20-odd years and two of the least predictable events in the world are when a software product will ship and when a standards committee will finish its work,” he said.
Bray’s colleague, Corporate Standards Director Carl Cargill, had some words of caution about Microsoft for Secretary Trimarco and the Commonwealth.
“Just as an agency would not purchase a product before its actual availability, so too would it be a mistake to rely on a single vendor’s promise to submit a new product to a standards body at some point in the future,” he wrote in a letter to the secretary, a copy of which was obtained by TechNewsWorld.
Costly Status Quo
“The Commonwealth’s process began as an effort to ensure that the documents created by its agencies would be owned by those offices and by its citizens for all eternity — without the need to negotiate or pay for continued access to them again in the future each time a new version of proprietary software is released.
“This process began as an effort to break away from the lock-in to certain expensive technologies, the costs of which ultimately accrue directly to taxpayers.
“This process began with a desire to create a level playing field so that innovation in the market would flourish, enabling better delivery of government services.
“This process should not end with the acceptance of a promise from those who seek to maintain a costly status quo, which accrues only to one company’s bottom line and denies the citizens of the Commonwealth the value they deserve from their tax dollars.”