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Massachusetts is back on the Microsoft bandwagon. Nearly two years ago, the US state unveiled a policy that required its agencies to abandon Microsoft's Office applications in favor of apps that use "open" standards, such as the OpenDocument format (ODF).

Now, the state's Information Technology Division has released a draft proposal that would approve Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format as an open standard, bowing to pressure from Microsoft and the Massachusetts state legislature.

Released today, the proposed update to the Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference is under review until July 20.

The state first announced its switch to open standards in the fall of 2005, under then CIO Peter Quinn. At the time Microsoft's Office 2003 suite did not support ODF, and the company had yet to release Office 2007, which would mark the debut of OOXML. Clearly, the state was pushing for the introduction of Microsoft alternatives, such as the open source OpenOffice.org and Sun Microsystems' for-pay version, StarOffice.

Unprecedented among state governments, the move caused quite a stir, as Microsoft lobbied the state legislature to change policy. Little more than four months later Quinn resigned his post: his successor, Louis Gutierrez, stayed in the job less than a year. Now, under interim CIO Bethann Pepoli, the state has reversed its stance.

In the two years since the state's original 2005 announcement, Microsoft released Office 2007, and OOXML was approved as an open standard by ECMA, an international standards group. Naturally, Microsoft has applauded Massachusetts 2.0.

"We support the Commonwealth's proposal to add ECMA Office Open XML File Formats to the list of approved standards, as this would give users the ability to choose the open file format standard that best serves their needs," said Tom Robertson, general manager, interoperability and standards at Microsoft.

Massachusetts had previously said that it would adopt "translator software" that would allow for the use of ODF through Office 2003. According to the new draft proposal, this is how most state agencies will make the switch to open standards. "All agencies are expected to migrate away from proprietary, binary office document formats to open, XML-based office document formats," the proposal reads. "Microsoft Office 2003, currently deployed by the majority of agencies, will support the use of ODF document formats through a translator software solution ."

Meanwhile, Microsoft is courting ECMA again, seeking to introduce an open standard that challenges Adobe's PDF format, long a de facto standard for electronic document exchange. The proposed standard is called XPS (XML Paper format).

"If you loved OOXML and the way that ECMA did exactly what Microsoft wanted, you"ll love the new working group around XPS," reads a blog post from Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president for open source and standards. "OOXML was not an anomaly, we now have a pattern. You can either object and do something about this, and that includes helping to stop OOXML, or else you can wake up one morning and find 'international standard' being increasingly synonymous with 'defined in Redmond, WA.' You have a choice." ®

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