Texas, Minn. Bills Propose Statewide ODF Standards

Follow Mass. in seeking alternative to Microsoft Office file format

State legislatures in Minnesota and Texas are considering bills calling for the adoption of the Open Document Format for Office Applications, or ODF, as the standard file format for their state government documents.

If the bills are approved, the two states would follow the lead of Massachusetts, which has designated ODF as a standard for its executive branch agencies. ODF is an alternative to the widely used file formats in Microsoft Corp.’s Office desktop software suite.

Don Betzold

Don BetzoldThe proposed Minnesota bill, authored by state Sen. Don Betzold, would require state agencies to use an open, XML-based file format that is “interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications; fully published and available royalty-free; implemented by multiple vendors; and controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.” The mandate would take effect on July 1, 2008.

The Texas bill, which has requirements that are similar to the Minnesota legislation, would give the Texas Department of Information Resources until Sept. 1, 2008, to develop a transition plan.

Though neither bill identifies a specific document format, Betzold confirmed that ODF is the file format described in his proposal.

“ODF is the standard intended,” he said. “It is my goal to make sure that the public has access to electronic documents in the years to come and that we do not have to rely on licensing agreements or code access.”

Advocates See Victory

ODF was accepted as a standard by the International Standards Organization (ISO) last spring and is supported by major technology vendors, including IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Google Inc.

Proponents of ODF view the Texas and Minnesota bills as another victory in the battle to make it a viable alternative to the Open XML formats built into Office 2007.

“After Massachusetts, the ODF genie is out of the bottle here in the U.S.,” Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance advocacy group, said via e-mail. “We’re encouraged that Texas and Minnesota seem to be following suit.”

However, Microsoft has proposed the Office Open XML file format as a standard to the ISO, which is considering the company’s submission (see story at left). If approved, that could enable both ODF and Open XML to qualify as open, XML-based file formats.

In an e-mail statement, Microsoft said it supports customer choice and interoperability and urges governments to do so as well. However, the company does not approve of governments mandating the use of only one standard for file formats, the statement said.

Wider adoption of ODF would likely boost demand for ODF plug-ins, which can translate documents between that file format and Microsoft’s.

Sun last week brought out an ODF plug-in for Office 2003 users. A preview of the Sun software, called StarOffice 8 Conversion Technology, is expected in mid-February.

IBM has also developed ODF plug-ins.

Montalbano writes for the IDG News Service.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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