Massachusetts May Adopt OOXML – What Say You?

Andy continues his prodigious coverage of the Massachusetts OOXML/ODF debate. From a recent post:

The Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD), the state agency that effectively launched the voyage of ODF around the world in August of 2005, has released a new version of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model. And this new draft includes Microsoft’s OOXML formats as an acceptable “open format.” The new draft was posted today here, and the very brief comment period will end on July 20. The header to the announcement at the ITD Web site reads as follows:

A review draft of ETRM v. 4.0 is available for review and comment from July 2nd through July 20th, 2007. Comments should be submitted to standards@state.ma.us. This major release of the ETRM updates content published in version 3.6, introduces the new Management Domain, enhances the ETRM’s format for accessibility and usability as well as provides additions and updates to existing language and technical specifications. For a detailed outline of major revisions made in this version please consult the Major Revisions for ETRM v.4.0 document.

The announcement is not a surprise to me, as I’ve been following the progress of the ITD’s internal reviews over the past six months. I’ve not been commenting on this publicly in order to try to give Bethann Pepoli (once again the interim CTO, since the departure of Louis Gutierrez) and her team the space to do their internal evaluations with less pressure than Peter Quinn experienced the first time around. However, and as you can imagine, the ITD has been under as much pressure behind the scenes (and perhaps more) as the legislators of those states that have recently tried, and failed, to pass laws that would mandate open formats in government.

The OOXML-related changes to the text of the ETRM are deceptively insignificant. By my word search, there are only three references: the inclusion of the name of the standard in the introductory summary of changes, a brief description and migration section in the Domain: Information part of the draft (scroll down and look for the “Open Formats” section), and the listing of Ecma among the other standards bodies on a list of “Relevant Standards Organizations.” But the potential impact of these change if retained will be great.

How much pressure has the Massachusetts ITD been under to accept Ecma 376? I’ve been told by those in the know that the contacts reached all the way to Deval Patrick, our new governor. Here, as in the states where legislation was introduced, the point was forcefully and repeatedly made that Microsoft is the kind of company that can provide jobs and other economic support where and as it pleases. And, to be fair, the same points were been made in the past by representatives of IBM and Sun when they have spoke out in favor of ODF.

Now we are looking at a very short comment period, commenced with no advance warning, spanning a holiday, and contained within one of the busiest vacation months of the year (one can’t help wondering why).

That makes the comment period less than 14 business days in a month that, as Andy points out, is one that is very popular for vacationing. Assuming the addition of ECMA 376 moves forward, the question becomes how large of a blow is this to ODF? Opinions on that remain all over the map. Some seem to think it’s a minor setback while others say it could potentially relegate ODF to being a footnote in history. The fact remains that OOXML still only has a single implementation. It’s also unclear if the latest version of Office completely implements the spec or implements items not in the spec. This means that if ODF adoption doesn’t gain any traction, Microsoft will easily be able to move forward with proprietary extensions, let ECMA 376 languish or even drop support in the future altogether. In other words, we’ll be right back where we started. That’s a bad thing. Andy has further coverage on the topic, including reactions from around the industry.

–jeremy

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