Microsoft: One open document standard good, two better

Microsoft believes a future with more than one open document standard is preferable to a single standard, according to a company executive.

Microsoft believes a future with more than one open document standard is preferable to a single standard.

It'll be up to third-party vendors to supply the necessary converters and filters so that users can move between Microsoft's proposed Open XML specification and the OpenDocument standard supported by the likes of IBM and Sun Microsystems, according to a Microsoft executive.

"Additional standards give you more choice over a period of time," Alan Yates, general manager, business strategy with Microsoft's information worker group, said Wednesday. "Governments should be open to both [Open XML and OpenDocument] and whatever else is rolling down the street. Choosing both is really wise."

Yates was one of the members of a panel debating the future of electronic data formats in Boston Wednesday. The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and the Commonwealth's Science & Technology Caucus convened the panel to provide a forum for IT vendors, state officials and the public to air their views on a Massachusetts policy that continues to generate plenty of controversy.

Back in September, Massachusetts Chief Information Officer (CIO) Peter Quinn finalized a policy for state agencies to develop a gradual plan for migration to Open Document Format for Office Applications, also known as OpenDocument, beginning Jan. 1, 2007. The plan would involve phasing out the state's Microsoft Office use. Other U.S. states and countries are keenly watching to see how that proposal is implemented and whether the state and the IT vendors can meet the Jan. 1, 2007 deadline.

"Massachusetts is the canary in the mine on this issue," John Palfrey, clinical professor of law and executive director of the Berkman Center on Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School, said during the debate. "If Massachusetts gets this right, others will follow."

Palfrey proposed moving the debate over document formats to a higher level, not simply pitting IBM, Sun and other vendors against Microsoft. "The tricky point is what does it mean [for a state] to have an open policy?" he asked. In defining such a policy, he suggested four key areas to focus on:

-- ensuring software interoperability;

-- long-term access to and control of applications;

-- choice and low cost of applications;

-- and finally innovation so that other vendors can easily build products on top of the chosen document format.

"You need to avoid any one entity having too much control over the ecosystem," Palfrey said.

Bob Sutor, vice president of standards and open source for IBM, appeared nervous that Massachusetts might not follow through on its proposal to adopt OpenDocument. "You made the right decision; don't turn back," he said on several occasions during the debate. Sutor added that only "one really good [document] standard" was needed going forward, not several.

Microsoft's Yates said that OpenDocument and Open XML come from very different design points. "In the future at some point there will be convergence," he said. In the near term, the transition period from proprietary document formats to Open XML-based ones will be "messy and complex," he added. "Competition between standards we believe is a very good thing."

"We don't have any religious objections to OpenDocument," Yates said. "We're very, very focused on what we're doing with Open XML."

According to state CIO Quinn, Massachusetts has one of the most disparate technology environments around. What he's looking for from software vendors in terms of technology is akin to Lego building blocks, he said. "They're different colors and different shapes, but they always snap together" and can be easily pulled apart and put back together, Quinn added.

Sticking to easily understood metaphors, he held up a birth certificate, then placed it in a transparent folder, indicating the access he hopes using the OpenDocument format will facilitate. Quinn then put the certificate in a brown paper bag to demonstrate the difficulty of accessing the same document using proprietary software.

He addressed concerns raised by people with disabilities who fear that OpenDocument won't be compatible with existing computer software that they use. "We won't disenfranchise anyone," Quinn said. Massachusetts is in the process of finalizing a six-page memorandum of understanding to address accessibility issues.

"If we can't get the accessibility done [by Jan. 1, 2007], we'll move the date," Quinn said. He added that the state should have a better idea of how likely it is to be able to move to OpenDocument by the start of 2007 in the first quarter of 2006.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

China Martens

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?