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MA Chooses OASIS OpenDoc XML as Office Standard - Requesting Comments
Wednesday, August 31 2005 @ 10:04 PM EDT

This is a bit of a miracle.

The State of Massachusetts is backing OpenDocument v. 1.0 as the standard for office applications, text documents, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents like drawings and presentations, and all agencies are expected to migrate by January 1, 2007.

Here is the new version [PDF] of their Enterprise Technical Reference Model. As they themselves acknowledge, "Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable."

Considerable, yes, but if your goal is interoperability, both necessary and worth the effort, as anyone who has ever tried to interoperate in WordPerfect with someone working in MS Office can testify. They also say when formatting doesn't matter, documents created in proprietary formats can be saved as plain text -- think email, for example -- and for documents that will primarily be accessed by a web browser through the Internet or an intranet, HTML is preferred. By HTML, they mean standard HTML, as in HTML v. 4.01. PDF is also acceptable for documents that will not be further modified, and the standard there is PDF Reference v. 1.5 that supports XML functionality.

If you wish to review where this story began, back in January, Massachusetts announced its Open Format policy (announcement transcript here), and in March many at Groklaw responded to the request for input from the public on the Commonwealth's Enterprise Technical Reference Model. We had issues. A lot of other groups had issues too. Massachusetts listened. They met with industry and other groups' representatives. You can see a list of those asked to give input at one meeting. Then they went back to the drawing board and came up with this new version. They are asking for comments once again.

Here's mine: hubba hubba.

I will use Information Technology Division CIO Peter Quinn's comments linked from the ITD home page to describe the changes to this new version:

"After receiving comments from the public regarding our proposed Open Formats standards earlier this year we have had a series of discussions with industry representatives and experts about our future direction. These discussions have centered on open formats particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative "openness" of the format options available to us.

This new draft version of the Data Formats section of our Enterprise Technical Reference Model (beginning on page 16) identifies the newly ratified OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) as our standard for office documents. Additional open and acceptable formats are also identified for other types of documents. We are once again asking for your feedback and comments before finalizing the standards document. Thanks in advance for your input."

The bottom line is, they did listen to input. They really did. Their guidelines now are to "stay with open standards". For example, in the section on XML, they say, "To insure maximum interoperability, it is recommended that proprietary extensions to any XML specifications be avoided."

Here's the standards and specifications wording on XML:

Standards and Specifications

* XML v. 1.0: XML 1.0 has been fully ratified by the W3C, and is included in the WS-Interoperability Basic Profile 1.0. XML 1.0 can be validated against the formal definition of the protocol specification.

Refer to:

Here are some highlights from the materials on office documents, beginning on page 17 of the PDF:

Guidelines -- The OpenDocument format must be used for office documents such as text documents (.odt), spreadsheets (.ods), and presentations (.odp). The OpenDocument format is currently supported by a variety of office applications including, StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace.

Standards and Specifications --

* OpenDocument v.1.0 -- Defines an XML schema for office applications and its semantics. The schema is suitable for office documents, including text documents, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents like drawings and presentations, but is not restricted to these kinds of documents.

Refer to:

Migration -- Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable. Agencies will need to develop phased migration plans with a target implementation date of January 1, 2007. In the interim, agencies may continue to use the office applications they have currently licensed. Any acquisition of new office applications must support the OpenDocument standard.

Agencies should begin to evaluate office applications that support the OpenDocument specification to migrate from applications that use proprietary document formats. As of January 1, 2007 all agencies within the Executive Department will be required to:

1. Use office applications that provide native conformance with the OpenDocument standard, and

2. Configure the applications to save office documents in OpenDocument format by default.

I am imagining law firms all over the place that have dealings with Massachusetts agencies suddenly asking, where do we get this of which you speak? (Answer. And here's KOffice. Or if you just must spend money, here's StarOffice and IBM Workplace.) So, what do you think? When we didn't much like what they were doing, we said so at length. If you appreciate the change, you may wish to let them know and say thank you.

The public review draft of the Information Domain - Enterprise Technical Reference Model v.3.5 is available for review through Friday, September 9, 2005. Comments can also be addressed to Here's LinuxToday's coverage.

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