Massachusetts Falls to OOXML as ITD Punts

From Andy Updegrove:

In a not unanticipated move, Massachusetts announced today that Ecma 376, the name given to the Microsoft Office Open XML formats following their adoption by Ecma, would be acceptable for use by the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth. The announcement was made even as it appears more questionable whether the National Body members of ISO/IEC JTC1 will conclude that the formats are in suitable form to be granted standards status, and despite the fact that the ITD receive comments from 460 individuals and organizations during the brief comment period announced on July 5.

Most of those comments, “addressed revisions made to the Data Formats section [of the proposed changes to the Enterprise Technical Reference Model, or ETRM], specifically the inclusion of Ecma-376 Office Open XML as an acceptable document format for office applications along with the Open Document Format (ODF).” That number is several times the input received in connection with the original draft of the ETRM in August of 2005 that originally included ODF but not Microsoft’s OOXML.

The decision was posted today at the Information Technology Division’s Web site in a statement attributed to Henry Dormitzer, Undersecretary of Administration and Finance, Interim Commissioner, Department of Revenue, and Bethann Pepoli, Acting Chief Information Officer. That statement read in part as follows:

The Commonwealth continues on its path toward open, XML-based document formats without reflecting a vendor or commercial bias in ETRM v4.0. Many of the comments we received identify concerns regarding the Open XML specification. We believe that these concerns, as with those regarding ODF, are appropriately handled through the standards setting process, and we expect both standards to evolve and improve. Moreover, we believe that the impact of any legitimate concerns raised about either standard is outweighed substantially by the benefits of moving toward open, XML-based document format standards. Therefore, we will be moving forward to include both ODF and Open XML as acceptable document formats. All comments received are posted on this web site.

The “Fair and Balanced – let someone else decide” decision by the current administration and interim CIO Bethann Pepoli stands in sharp contrast to the positions taken by predecessor CIOs Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez, backed by then governor (and now-presidential hopeful) Mitt Romney. Both Quinn and Gutierrez insisted on including only “open standards” in the ETRM, and withstood significant pressure from Microsoft to give ground and accept OOXML prior to its adoption by ISO/IEC JTC1.

He ends the blog post with:

Massachusetts – or, more properly, a small number of courageous public servants – did something important two years ago when they took a stand for open formats. It is regrettable that their successors have seen fit to abandon that principled stance, even to the expedient extent of waiting a short while longer to see whether Microsoft’s OOXML formats will be found to be sufficient or lacking under the microscope of the global standards adoption process.

Unlike so many days before as the saga of ODF and OOXML has unfolded, this is not a day to be proud in Massachusetts.

I do find it odd that the ITD didn’t wait what is probably about a month or so to see how the ISO approval process went. Massachusetts defines an Open Format as follows:

“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.”

It seems clear to me that OOXML does not meet this definition, arguably in multiple ways. Matthew Aslett points out some of the revisionist history that seems to be taking place at this point. As Andy points out, this is not an unanticipated move. That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing though.

–jeremy

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