Game over for OpenDocument?

Is it game over for OpenDocument? Probably. We've been expecting Massachusetts ITD to publicly revise its open formats mandate to include Office Open XML (OOXML) ever since Louis Gutierrez resigned as CIO in early October 2006. That was as clear a signal that ODF had failed in Massachusetts as needed by anyone in the know.

The only surprise is that it took new ITD CIO Bethann Pepoli so long to make the announcement that OOXML would be officially recognized as an "open" XML file format going forward. How she determined OOXML is open when the Microsoft Open Specification Promise allows no other developer to implement it is a mystery, but it seems a safe bet that the decision was based on political and practical considerations rather than sound legal advice about OOXML's qualification as an open standard. See definitions ostensibly used by Massachusetts ITD to define openness in its ETRM:

Open Standard -- Specifications for systems that are publicly available and are developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is an example of an open standard. Open standards imply that multiple vendors can compete directly based on the features and performance of their products. It also implies that the existing information technology solution is portable and that it can be removed and replaced with that of another vendor with minimal effort and without major interruption. (Enterprise Open Standards Policy)

Open Format -- 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. (ETRM, Information Domain)

According to a Network World story, "Pepoli said the state needs to pick up the pace in adopting XML-based formats and we think now that 'to have both formats will make it easier.'"

But Pepoli said adoption of Open XML is not a done deal."Someone could submit a comment and we could make a review of ETRM and make changes," she said. Those changes could include eliminating Open XML from ETRM in the final draft.

But we're not holding our breath, given the heavily politicized situation in Massachusetts and the technical barriers to ITD adoption of ODF. If you're interested in submitting comments, the address is standards@state.ma.us. The deadline is July 20, 2007.

Yet a further mystery is why Massachusetts chose to add OOXML to its repertoire when not even Microsoft Office can generate files in that format. OOXML is a one-way, import-only format for MS Office, a crippled subset of Microsoft's own XML formats (MOOXML). See the comment by Marbux on betanews.com. Were a Massachusetts agency to specify in a software procurement tender that candidate applications must read and write the Ecma OOXML formats, Microsoft Office itself would be ineligible. Presumably, Massachusetts ITD has not yet awoken to this fact.

Standards attorney Andy Updegrove understandably hopes that public pressure on the Massachusetts legislature can reverse the proposal to add OOXML to ITD's ETRM. But how can this not be the death knell for ODF? The failure of ODF in Massachusetts will result in worldwide recognition that it is impossible to implement ODF at the enterprise level where business processes are already bound to Microsoft Office.

This is exactly what happened to ODF mandate legislation in California. The agency CIOs in California uniformly rejected both ODF legislation and Sun's hapless effort to set up an ODF Pilot Study based on what had happened in Massachusetts. If Massachusetts could not implement ODF, then they saw no reason for them to try. And four other states thus far have shot down similar legislation, heavily backed by Sun and IBM, that attempted to force "rip out and replace" implementation of ODF.

And it does come down to implementation.

Most people think the implementation of ODF is as easy as downloading OpenOffice.org and converting your legacy documents to ODF as they are used. Simply fix the artifacts of conversion in process, and never look back. OOo is free. So what's not to like?

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