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Thursday, September 18 2014 @ 06:38 AM CDT

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Meanwhile, Deep Down in Texas: An Open Format Bill is Filed

OpenDocument and OOXML

Most of the attention this week relating to open document standards is focused on what responses ISO/IEC JTC 1 will have received before the February 5 deadline for submission of  "contradictions" involving the Microsoft OOXML formats.  I just posted this entry on that score, reporting that a total of nineteen national bodies have filed contradictions, complaints or other comments as part of the contradictions process.

But while this global drama has been playing out, I've learned that a third US state is considering requiring use of open document formats by government agencies (Massachusetts and Minnesota are the other two to date).  That state is Texas, where a bill has been introduced to require that only "open document formats" should be permitted.  The bill is designated SB 446, and was filed on February 5 (the full text is reproduced at the end of this blog entry).

How does the Texas bill define an open document format?  As stated in the bill, such a format would need to be based upon Extensible Markup Language, would need to have been previously approved, and would be required to meet the following criteria:

(1)  interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications;

(2)  published without restrictions or royalties;

(3)  fully and independently implemented by multiple software providers on multiple  platforms without any intellectual property reservations for necessary technology; and

(4)  controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.

The language quoted is somewhat problematic in a number of ways (how diverse is "diverse"?  does "without restriction" mean without even those restrictions that are deemed to be consistent with the most "open" standards in use today?) but clearly states the intention of the bill's proponents.  Most notable, as regards the eligibility of OOXML and ODF would be the third requirement, which will certainly not be true with respect to OOXML for some time and may never be true, depending upon whether "fully and independently implemented" means in an office productivity suite.  It could also be debated whether Ecma maintains a "well-defined inclusive process," given the size of its membership and the size of its membership fees.

The application of the proposed legislation is also significant.  If adopted in its current form, all "state agencies" would be affected cutting a very wide swathe indeed.  As defined, a state agency would include not only the obvious, but also all of those admitted to the State Bar, as well as state colleges and universities.  Local lawyers and law firms may not take the need to upgrade their IT infrastructure kindly, and therefore it will be interesting to see whether the Texas bar association takes a position on the bill, and perhaps lobbies against it.

Those affected would be required to only create and save documents in open formats after the bill's effective date December 1, 2007, and to be able to receive documents in those formats as well.  Another section of the bill would bar those affected from converting any open document into a format "used by a single vendor."  And while no existing documents would initially need to be converted to open formats, the Department of Information Resources would be required to draft guidelines by December 1, 2008 for performing such conversions, taking into account considerations such as cost, document life, and need for public access.

It will be very interesting indeed to see how this bill fares.  On the plus side, the IT department of Texas will be spared the wrenching experience that the IT managers of Massachusetts suffered when they sought to put such a policy in place.  Too, debate over the bill will occur in public.  But on the negative, the legislators of Texas may be surprised at the magnitude of effort that lobbyists may expend on "educating" them on the issues at hand.

It will also be interesting to see if legislators in other states opt to file similar bills.  One would assume that the greater the number of such initiatives may be, the wider will be the public dialogue that will follow as well.  Hopefully, this will lead to a progressively more informed debate, and evolving consensus over the duties of government as regards public record.

That's an important topic, and as a result, I applaud the sponsors of this new bill, and look forward to the debates that will follow.

Oh - and what about the Minnesota bill?  As you may recall, a Minnesota legislator filed a bill during the previous legislative session focusing on a bill-specific definition of open standards that gave me some concern, because that definition was quite detailed.  Why was I concerned?  Because if every state legislates its own definition of "open standards," then there is no "standard" definition of open standards.  If that's the case, then how can vendors offer uniform licensing terms, and standards organizations create intellectual property rights policies intended to meed the needs of the marketplace?

Obviously, what was needed was a standard definition.  This time around, the proponents of open formats have filed a new and shorter bill (on January 17 of this year), with a more concise definition of an open standard.  I am told that the bill also enjoys broader support.  It reads in it's entirety as follows:

A bill for an act relating to state government; establishing Preservation of State Documents Act; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 16E.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. PRESERVATION OF STATE DOCUMENTS ACT.

Effective July 1, 2008, all documents including text, spreadsheets, and presentations of the state of Minnesota shall be created, exchanged, maintained, and preserved in an open, XML-based file format, as specified by the chief information office of the state, that is:

(1) interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications;

(2) fully published and available royalty-free;

(3) implemented by multiple vendors; and

(4) controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard. By that date, the state of Minnesota shall be able to accept all documents received in open document format for office applications and shall not migrate to a file format currently used by only one organization.

Sound familiar?  I can hardly complain, as both Texas and Minnesota appear to have decided to use the same definition for an open standard, and one that is far more main stream than the earlier Minnesota formulation.  I am naturally curious, however, what the back story may be, that has led to this wholesome agreement upon the exact wording used.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 You can follow the progress of Texas S.B. No. 446 here. 

  You can follow the progress of Minnesota H.F. No. 176 here.

  Full text of the Texas bill as of today's date:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT

RELATINT TO AN OPEN DOCUMENT FORMAT FOR ELECTRONIC STATE DOCUMENTS

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1.  Subchapter F, Chapter 2054, Government Code, is amended by adding Section 2054.124 to read as follows:

Sec. 2054.124.  OPEN DOCUMENT FORMAT REQUIRED.  (a)  In this section, "state agency" means:

(1)  a board, commission, council, department, office, authority, or other agency in the executive branch of state government created under the constitution or a statute of the state, including an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code;

(2)  the legislature or a legislative agency; or

(3)  an appellate court or an agency in the judicial branch of state government, including the State Bar of Texas.

(b)  Each electronic document created, exchanged, or maintained by a state agency must be created, exchanged, or maintained in an open, Extensible Markup Language based file format, specified by the department, that is:

(1)  interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications;

(2)  published without restrictions or royalties;

(3)  fully and independently implemented by multiple software providers on multiple platforms without any intellectual property reservations for necessary technology; and

(4)  controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.

(c)  Each state agency must be able to receive electronic documents in an open, Extensible Markup Language based file format for office applications and may not change documents to a file format used by only one vendor.

(d)  The department shall develop guidelines for state agencies to follow in determining whether existing electronic documents must be converted to an open, Extensible Markup Language based file format.  In developing guidelines under this subsection, the department shall consider:

(1)  the cost of converting electronic documents;

(2)  the need for public access to the documents; and

(3)  the expected storage life of the documents.

SECTION 2.  Not later than September 1, 2008, the Department of Information Resources shall develop the guidelines required by Section 2054.124(d), Government Code, as added by this Act.

SECTION 3.  (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b) of this section, Section 2054.124, Government Code, as added by this Act, applies only to electronic documents created on or after the effective date of this Act.

(b)  Section 2054.124, Government Code, as added by this Act, applies to electronic documents created, exchanged, or maintained before the effective date of this Act only to the extent required by the guidelines developed by the Department of Information Resources under Section 2054.124(d), Government Code, as added by this Act.

SECTION 4.  This Act takes effect December 1, 2007

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

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