As the U.S. Independence Day approaches, we can honor the shot heard around the world when the IT department of the state of Massachusetts declared a couple years ago they would adopt the Open Document Format.
Although many people inside and outside the state detected more than a whiff of anti-Microsoft sentiment in the announcement, it didn’t preclude the use of Microsoft products. (Not long after, a plug-in was developed–not by Microsoft!–to produce ODF from Microsoft Office programs.) But instead of adopting to public pressure and supporting ODF, Microsoft lobbied international standards organizations to adopt its own proprietary format as a standard instead.
Now the state has formally backpedaled, according to a posting by standards expert Andrew Updegrove. It has declared Microsoft’s OOXML as an acceptable format for state documents.
Dueling standards are nothing new, but it’s not in the public interest for a lightweight, publicly developed standard with multiple alternative implementations to be driven out by a monster of a specification (6,000 pages) that has legal encumbrances and other complexities that mean it can be implemented by only one vendor.
It’s frustrating to see that the state standards committee either does not understand its own principles or is cynically ignoring them. The Information Domain section of its draft describes one of the benefits of XML as:
Long-term reuse of data, with no lock-in to proprietary tools or undocumented formats
But that’s true only if the particular XML implementation is unencumbered and disconnected from proprietary formats. OOXML fails these tests, and therefore violates the principle stated in the standard.
The standards process has clearly been turned against standards.
If you live in Massachusetts, read Updegrove’s blog and the Massachusetts draft, and let the state know what you think by July 20.