The Standards Blog

Update on ODF and Massachusetts

OpenDocument and OOXML

A few days ago, I posted my comments to the Mass. ITD on whether or not it should include OOXML in its list of approved standards.  I also urged anyone with an opinion on this issue to send their own comments to the ITD at this address:  standards@state.ma.usNow, Pamela Jones, who has contributed hugely to the ODF effort in the past, has just posted a long and informative entry at Groklaw, pointing her readers to various resources that they may wish to consult in preparing their own comments, as well as ideas on the various areas upon which comments may be relevant.  PJ has done her usual great job on this, and I'd encourage you to read her entry to see how her observations strike you.

It's particularly important for you to consider doing so, because I learned from a reporter today that only about 50 comments have been filed with the ITD so far.  With only 8 days to comment left, this compares very poorly to the over 150 comments that were received by the ITD in 2005.  I have no idea what percentage of these comments are pro OOXML and what percentage urge the ITD to stick only with ODF, but given the small number in total, it could easily be disproportionate in one direction or the other, especially if a concerted effort has been made by one constituency or the other to influence the outcome.

Regular readers will know that I think that this is an important issue.  Right now, the default decision in the ITD's new version of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model is to include OOXML.  In my last post, I paraphrased one slogan from the activist 1960's that helped to shape a lot of who I am today.  I'd like to now offer another catchphrase from those braver and more involved times, this time a chant from the many protest rallies that punctuated the antiwar movement: "Silence means consent." 

That slogan is particularly apt now, because the fewer the comments the ITD receives, the more certain will be the result.  After all, if people no longer care, why should the ITD stick its neck out?  The past immediate experiences of both Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez have made the consequences all to obvious.  These people aren't paid combat pay to be controversial - they're just supposed to keep the IT structure effective for our benefit.  If we want them to do more than just do what they're told by vendors, we owe it to them to back them up.

If you think that this is an important issue, consider taking a few minutes to make your opinions known, whatever they may be.  And if you're tempted to just click on to the next Web page without doing so, consider this:  most of what happens to us in our lifetimes is totally beyond our control.  This is one of the few situations where what happens to you, and to your children, can be influenced by a simple email.

So if you have an opinion and want to help shape your future, share it - take control of what the future may hold for you. Otherwise, just be patient, because with or without your input, the future will be done unto you. 

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Comments

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As an archivist for the past 27 years, I've been at the mercy of both hardware and software changes that keeps me running in place. I wrote to Ms. Pepoli on my own nightmare experiences, and how in the past ten years, I've worked hard to avoid Microsoft's ever-changing .doc/.xls formats. MS-OOXML is a mistake on many levels. I won't go into details, but in my business, ODF is the best news that's come along in a generation. Like Andy, I urge everyone to take a moment to pen a note to Ms. Pepoli. Share your own experience, devoid of any negative Microsoft emotions (I have meny of those, too). Beyond the numbers, she needs to read why ODF should be our future.

Zaine,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with the ITD and with us.  When I interviewed the Mass Supervisor of Public Records Alan Cote and learned how he guards against format changes now (re-saving each document in multiple formats on multiple media ever few years) I was flabbergasted that he wasn't the biggest supporter of ODF, instead of a detractor.

  -  Andy

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I myself prefer,
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
            Edmund Burke

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i would like to copy here this extract of peter korn's  ( Accessibility Architect at Sun Microsystems, Inc. ) blog post, relevant to this issue:

"
The accessibility of office documents has appropriately become a significant issue - in Massachusetts and worldwide. In response, Sun, IBM, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the Institute for Community Inclusion, Design Science, and several individual disability experts and users with disabilities did a tremendous job analyzing the ODF v1.0 spec for accessibility. The resulting contributions to ODF v1.1 led us to say that "we believe that ODF will meet or exceed the accessibility support provided in all other office file formats as well as that specified in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0". The Commonwealth of Massachusetts made it clear to Sun and IBM that they would not accept ODF v1.0, but instead insisted that the OASIS standards body make ODF v1.1 - with the results of our accessibility improvements - an OASIS standard before they would move forward with the plans set forth in ETRM v3.5 to deploy OpenDocument Format for their office documents. Given the issues that your project has highlighted in OOXML, the fact that there are unanswered accessibility questions (such as those I have highlighted with respect to DAISY and Braille conversion), and the fact that there has been no authoritative accessibility review of OOXML to date; I think it is reasonable to ask why the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should add OOXML to their set of acceptable document standards? If the Commonwealth insisted that ODF 1.0 wasn't acceptable - that only the standardized output of an accessibility peer-review of experts and technical individuals/users with disabilities would meet their needs - then shouldn't any other proposed format have to meet the same standard? Shouldn't Massachusetts insist that Ecma standardize on an OOXML v1.1 with accessibility improvements before OOXML can be deployed? Why should another document format receive less scrutiny? Why should another document format be held to a lesser standard?"

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1) Why is  no mention being made anywhere of the ODF plugin for MSOffice(2003,XP,2000)  released by Sun ?     The lack of a plugin was one of the factors which worked in favor of  M$  as it was impossible to replace the existing  M$Office softwares with  ODF compliant ones.  With this   plugin which is fully functional on   previous MSOffice versions there is no need  now  for another document format.    I am amazed at the  low key response to the ODF plugin or am I missing something.

2) Organisations  who  avoid  switching over to   any of the ODF compliant office suites    mentioning  the requirement of retraining staff  are only delaying the inevitable.    Presently they have the option of using the plugin  with their current M$Off pkgs,   but  once  M$ ends support  for the older versions  they will have to take a decision to  change or upgrade.  If they change they will have some retraining costs  and if they upgrade  the costs will be more than retraining.

3) Irrespective of whether  OOXML is approved  by MA, the main battle is the Sept ballot in ISO.   If  OOXML gets the ISO approval  expect  M$  to  create  bugs in the path of all  ODFplugins under the guise of  security updates/patches.

 

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This is in response to the questions in the last comment, but because so many people have the same questions I'm posting this more visibly.

The plugins are a complicated issue.  There are several projects in process, including ones sponsored  by the Open Document Format Fellowship, OpenOffice and a SourceForge project funded by Microsoft.  Novell and WordPerfect have also announced that they will offer support to one format or the other (ODF and OOXML).

They plugins are in various states of readiness (e.g., they need to ultimately work with all elements of an office suite (e.g., text, spreadsheet, database, presentations), and equally well with each of these function sets.  Most of the translator projects, not surprisingly, start with the text documents first, and I don't think that any of them supports all modules yet (do let me know if one of them now does).

The plugins are a two-edged issue.  If you have a plugin for Word to save to ODF, Microsoft would say "why bother to switch?  You can communicate with citizens through either format, and you can archive in two formats.  Isn't that better?"  The counterargument would be that with ODF you get more choice, there's less (or no) need to archive in two formats, and so on.

The last point you raise that is worth commenting on involves retraining.  It's interesting that Office 2007, the Microsoft version that will support OOXML, is very different from the last version, and will involve a significant degree of retraining to permit existing Office users to upgrade.  Moving to a suite like OpenOffice or StarOffice that supports ODF, in contrast, is very easy - each of them is modeled on the look and feel of Office, and if you've downloaded a copy of OpenOffice and tried using it, or switched to it entirely, you've already seen how easy it is to make the switch, with no training at all. 

From that perspective, a government that wants to upgrade to an office suite that supports a standards-organization adopted format might easily find that it would be cheaper to convert to ODF than upgrade to Office 2007.  A number of studies, most notably in Bristol, England, have already suggested this result.

  -  Andy