Mass. Approves Microsoft Office Document Format

In a victory for Microsoft's open source efforts, Massachusetts has decided to accept Microsoft's Office file format as sufficiently open to allow it to compete with other office productivity suites.

On Wednesday, the state ratified a draft proposal that will allow Office's file format, Open Office XML (also known as OOXML and Ecma-376) to be a choice for state employees when choosing office applications. That means Microsoft Office 2007, and the older version Office 2003, is now on the approved list along with other open document formats like Office competitor OpenOffice, which uses the Open Document Format (ODF). The proposal was first released a month ago, on July 2.

Tom Robertson, general manager of Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft, stated in an e-mail comment that Massachusetts' decision will be good for the state:

"The Commonwealth's decision to add Ecma Office Open XML File Formats to its list of approved open standards is a positive development for government IT users in the Commonwealth. They now have the freedom to choose whichever format best serves their needs. The Commonwealth's decision also reflects the fact that formats will evolve over time and that approved standards lists should also evolve," Robertson wrote.

Ecma is a standards body that gave OOXML its blessing last December.

It's an ironic move for Massachusetts, which led the move away from Microsoft software several years ago when it announced that it would use only open source software. It obliquely addressed some of those concerns in a statement on its Web site by two state officials:

"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," the statement read.

ODF is used by open source Office competitors in the Linux space, including the suite and the KOffice suite. It is supported by IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Corel, Novell, Opera Software and Red Hat.

As is nearly always the case when Microsoft gets involved in open source, there has been  controversy about OOXML and how "open" it really is. Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of open source and open standards, stated in a May blog entry that Microsoft's definition of open is different from that of the majority of the open source community.

"Microsoft believes we need many standards: the industry standards, plus the ones they themselves create. That's why they want 'choice.' If there is no 'choice,' the industry might not use what Microsoft creates by itself," Sutor wrote.

In fact, IBM and Microsoft have lobbed accusations back and forth about what open source and interoperability really means. In fact, at the Ecma meeting that approved the OOXML standard, IBM was the only member to vote against OOXML.

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].