Massachusetts adds Open XML to open formats list

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Microsoft has achieved a small victory in its effort to make Open XML an open technology standard. Massachusetts, the U.S. state that has mandated the use of open technology formats in its government agencies, has put the specification on its list of possible standards that can be used for documents, according to a document on its Web site.

The current 4.0 version of the state’s Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) — a framework defining where standards will be used and which ones are permissible — lists Ecma-376 Office Open XML Formats (Open XML) as an acceptable “open format.” The state is adding Open XML to a short list that also includes OASIS Open Document Format For Office Applications (ODF) v. 1.1, the current version of the rival standard supported by IBM, Sun Microsystems and others.

Bethann Pepoli, acting CIO for Massachusetts, said Monday that Open XML was added to the list because it now meets the commonwealth’s criteria for an open standard, which requires that formats “are publicly available and are developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body.” Massachusetts has been releasing a revision to the ETRM every six months, and in December when the last version was released Open XML had only recently been approved by Ecma and did not have the required industry support, she said.

Massachusetts residents have until July 20 to comment on the current draft of the ETRM.

Microsoft submitted Open XML to Ecma International in November 2004, and the standards organization has approved a final version of the specification. The International Organization for Standards (ISO) is expected to vote on the Ecma version of Open XML later this year. ODF already has been approved by the ISO as an international technology standard.

In a statement through its public-relations firm Monday, Microsoft applauded the addition of Open XML to the Massachusetts list, saying it gives users “the ability to choose the open file format standard that best serves their needs.” When Microsoft submitted Open XML to Ecma, the company said it was in part to make the document format Microsoft developed in house for its Office 2007 suite a more viable option for governments and other institutions that are beginning to standardize only on technology formats that are available for anyone to use.

But critics — mainly those who support ODF as in favor of Open XML as the standard for documents — have complained that Microsoft has been too controlling when it comes to the Ecma standards process, ensuring the technology it submitted as a “standard” looked the way Microsoft wanted it to at the end of the approval process. And since the company didn’t allow third parties to create implementations of Open XML before it was submitted, critics say Microsoft has misused the standards process, which is meant to be more open.

One of those most outspoken critics, IBM’s Vice President of Open Source and Standards Bob Sutor, Monday spoke out in favor of Massachusetts decision to let its residents review Open XML alongside other formats. However, he took a dig at Microsoft with a reminder that the ETRM is still only in draft form and that opposition remains to the state’s decision to use Open XML as a standard.

This story, "Massachusetts adds Open XML to open formats list" was originally published by PCWorld.

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