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Open progress

By Wyatt Kash, GCN

The news earlier this month that Massachusetts was likely to approve Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) format as an alternative for creating state documents set off a fresh firestorm of debate over proprietary versus open document formats.

The proposal, included in a new draft of Massachusetts’ enterprise technical reference model, effectively reverses a controversial stand the commonwealth took two years ago when it announced plans to ban the use of proprietary formats in creating government documents.

At the time, the announcement by then-chief information officer Peter Quinn was seen in software circles as revolutionary — and something of a victory for advocates of the Open Document Format (OOF). It certainly played well with those who railed against Microsoft’s ubiquitous grip on office documents.

So it’s not surprising that some would see this latest development as the political equivalent of Massachusetts extending import rights to the British East India Co., the company whose favored status granted by the British Parliament led to the Boston Tea Party.

At issue when Quinn made his decision — and still today — is the desire to free information from the underlying software with which documents were created. Quinn argued that moving to ODF would allow information to be shared among more applications and documents, and it would survive across more generations of software.

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