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US state set to dump Office

Massachusetts' government agencies switch to OpenDocument

The US state of Massachusetts is preparing to phase out Microsoft Office in favour of products that support an open document format.

Peter Quinn, Massachusetts’ chief information officer, said the state will support the newly ratified Open Document Format for Office Applications, or OpenDocument, as the standard for its office documents. Developed within Oasis (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), OpenDocument is an XML-based file format that covers the features required for text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents.

The decision to move to OpenDocument from proprietary document formats came “after a series of discussions with industry representatives and experts about our future direction”, according to Quinn.

“[Those discussions focused on] open formats particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative 'openness' of the format options available to us,” he said.

Microsoft Office and other productivity suites such as Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that Massachusetts government agencies currently use support proprietary document formats, according to the commonwealth. Suites that support OpenDocument include OpenOffice, StarOffice, KOffice and IBM Workplace.

Because most of Massachusetts' government agencies are using these suites that support proprietary document formats, “the magnitude of the new migration effort to this new open standard is considerable”, according to the state. It expects its agencies to develop phased migration plans with a target implementation date of 1 January 2007.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said that the company's support of XML in Office and other products shows that Microsoft, too, is in favour of open formats for data interoperability and the archiving of public records. However, Microsoft does not believe the public sector should force a single document format on its agencies, especially one that may be less functional than what they are already using, the spokeswoman said.

She added that as various file formats, such as those for documents, photos, video and audio files, become more intertwined, it would be a mistake to support OpenDocument and not other XML schemas for different file formats.

While a number of government agencies across the world have expressed plans to drop Microsoft products in favor of open-source and open-standard technologies, Massachusetts is the first major public-sector institution to do so in the US.

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