Massachusetts Falls to OOXML as ITD Punts

 [Updated:  You can view the comments at Slashdot on this blog entry and story here.]

In a not unanticipated move, Massachusetts announced today that Ecma 376, the name given to the Microsoft Office Open XML formats following their adoption by Ecma, would be acceptable for use by the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth. The announcement was made even as it appears more questionable whether the National Body members of ISO/IEC JTC1 will conclude that the formats are in suitable form to be granted global standards status, and despite the fact that the ITD received comments from 460 individuals and organizations during the brief comment period announced on July 5.  

Most of those comments, "addressed revisions made to the Data Formats section [of the proposed changes to the Enterprise Technical Reference Model, or ETRM], specifically the inclusion of Ecma-376 Office Open XML as an acceptable document format for office applications along with the Open Document Format (ODF)." That number is several times the input received in connection with the original draft of the ETRM in August of 2005 that originally included ODF but not Microsoft's OOXML.
The decision was posted today at the Information Technology Division's Web site in a statement attributed to Henry Dormitzer, Undersecretary of Administration and Finance, Interim Commissioner, Department of Revenue, and Bethann Pepoli, Acting Chief Information Officer.  That statement  read in part as follows: 
The Commonwealth continues on its path toward open, XML-based document formats without reflecting a vendor or commercial bias in ETRM v4.0. Many of the comments we received identify concerns regarding the Open XML specification.  We believe that these concerns, as with those regarding ODF, are appropriately handled through the standards setting process, and we expect both standards to evolve and improve. Moreover, 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. All ">comments received are posted on this web site.
 The "Fair and Balanced – let someone else decide" decision by the current administration and interim CIO Bethann Pepoli stands in sharp contrast to the positions taken by predecessor CIOs Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez, backed by then governor (and now-presidential hopeful) Mitt Romney. Both Quinn and Gutierrez insisted on including only "open standards" in the ETRM, and withstood significant pressure from Microsoft to give ground and accept OOXML prior to its adoption by ISO/IEC JTC1. 

Tellingly, the statement quoted above retreats from that position, taking cover instead behind the need to move “to XML-based document formats” while abandoning the moral high ground of insisting on international adoption, as well as convincing proof that the Microsoft formats will result in the type of future accessibility that led to the ITD’s original position. Rather than waiting – as little as one month – to see whether Ecma 376 would be granted that status by ISO/IEC JTC1, the current administration has opted instead to punt – a substantial and regrettable retreat from the stance that brought OOXML this far along the open standards road.
In so doing, the ITD and the administration of the new governor, Deval Patrick, has relieved some of the pressure previously placed on Microsoft by Massachusetts to open its XML formats. That pressure alarmed Microsoft to such an extent that it forced its formats as quickly as possible through the traditionally slow accredited standardization process, selecting a compliant Ecma as its introduction to ISO/IEC JTC1. The pace it adopted within Ecma resulted in only a superficial repackaging of the over 6,000 page specification for fast-track consideration by the National Bodies that are now in the final weeks of considering whether to approve or disapprove that submission.
The rapid schedule of Ecma 376 has been marked with allegations of “stuffing the ballot box” in several countries, as previously small delegations have suddenly seen an influx of individuals (often employees of Microsoft business partners) seeking qualification to vote on consideration of the specification. It has also resulted in protests that the standard is not in acceptable form for adoption, and that there is insufficient time for the National Bodies to responsibly review the large document. The debate within the National Bodies has been aggressive on both sides, as noted by Microsoft’s Director of Corporate Standards Jason Matusow at his blog on July 30:


There is no question that all over the world the competing interests in the Open XML standardization process are going to use all tactics available to them within the rules. Microsoft and its partners (particularly those who have bet their businesses on Open XML), continue to advocate that it is best to enable our customers to choose the technology that best meets the needs of their business.
 I will write at greater length in the days to come about the substance of the comments offered, as well as some other interesting and important developments. Rather than dilute the news of the ITD’s announcement with such details, however, I will close with this observation: Massachusetts – or, more properly, a small number of courageous public servants – did something important two years ago when they took a stand for open formats. It is regrettable that their successors have seen fit to abandon that principled stance, even to the expedient extent of waiting a short while longer to see whether Microsoft’s OOXML formats will be found to be sufficient or lacking under the microscope of the global standards adoption process.
Unlike so many days before as the saga of ODF and OOXML has unfolded, this is not a day to be proud in Massachusetts.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Comments (7)

  1. Shame on the new CIO …

    Just goes to show how rare in politics a person with a spine really is!

  2. Do Microsoft’s current products truly implement Ecma 376, and is it likely that the “standard” will change after the comments period?

    Is it possible that the state starts to support OOXML and then finds that there aren’t any products – including those from Microsoft – that actually support the finalized standard.

    I wonder what the Commonwealth’s currently installed base of OOXML-capable software is, and how costly it will be to update it to support the Ecma 376 standard if/when it’s finalized.

    • Good questions all.  Another is whether the ITD has any current plans to upgrade to move quickly to Office 2007, and if not, what the urgency was for making the change?

        –  Andy

    • that’s not going to be a problem because ecma is basically a rubber stamping agency for anything you’d like to call a standard (provided you’ve got the money).

      each part of the "standard" basically says "do what microsoft office does" "display this the way microsoft office does" etc etc. which is why calling this a standard is a complete marketing sham meant to fly under the radar of laws that are meant to promote actual open standards and discourage vendor lock in. take a look at any of the articles actually dissecting the OOXML standard to see what i mean. you’ll see even more of the sham in the  standards defining the library semantics in .NET (they contain so much legacy cruff dating back to DOS that you would in no way actually design a system to have)

      so, looking at it that way, microsoft office will always be a compatible implementation :p

  3. "…are going to use all tactics available to them within the rules. "

    I’m not so sanguine that Microsoft is willing to stay within the rules.

    • I do not see so badly the standard either that they want to implant with because he is so bad? , he is that I do not understand much of this but people speak very badly of which Microsoft tries. I have entered and it has seemed to me well…


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