September 7th, 2005

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Massachusetts Dropping Microsoft Formats

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has announced that it will be embracing open formats in an effort to improve interoperability and help future-proof documents.

Some may find it somewhat surprising that as part of this effort, support for the popular (albeit proprietary and "closed") Microsoft Office formats is being dropped; support for the open OASIS OpenDocument is being added in its place, and support for the PDF (which has always been there) is being continued and expanded.

This actually won't affect Saugus much at all for a variety of reasons. Basically Saugus and the state are thinking along the same lines. in particular has been using open formats (including PDF specifically) since 1998, and adopted the OASIS OpenDocument format back when it was first approved as just a first Committee Draft in 2003.

The OpenDocument format has several advantages over the MS-Word DOC format it's replacing. There are minor advantages like the fact that it tends to be more efficient and thus (on the average) takes less disk space. More importantly though are major advantages like being open and based on clean XML unencumbered by restrictive patents. Pretty much anyone can get at the contents of an OpenDocument file without having to purchase any special software. Furthermore, developers are free to write their own software to work with OpenDocument files without having to purchase special licenses.

This last bit has already resulted in widespread support for the OpenDocument format in multiple applications ranging from free software solutions like OpenOffice, KOffice, & AbiWord to more conventional commercial software solutions like StarOffice and IBM Workplace. It also means that entities like the Town of Saugus and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are free to make their own solutions that optimally address their specific needs; they aren't forced to deal with any specific vendor for limited canned solutions.

The Commonwealth is expected to be fully compliant by 2007; Saugus should be there well before then.

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