Interesting. I’m not sure if this qualifies as breaking news, but I appreciate our friends in the community and within RedMonk clients (who I won’t name per my policy, but who should feel free to identify themselves if they wish) for passing on word that the Open Document Format (ODF) Technical Committee (TC) has been notified that it’s the State of Massachusetts’ intention to standardize on that open standard (here’s my definition of open standard vs format). The relevant link is here, while the important text as far as I’m concerned are these bits:
Guidelines The OpenDocument format must be used for office documents such as text documents (.odt), spreadsheets (.ods), and presentations (.odp). The OpenDocument format is currently supported by a variety of office applications including OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace.
Migration Given the majority of Executive Department agencies currently use office applications such as MS Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that produce documents in proprietary formats, the magnitude of the migration effort to this new open standard is considerable. Agencies will need to develop phased migration plans with a target implementation date of January 1, 2007. In the interim, agencies may continue to use the office applications the have currently licensed. Any acquisition of new office applications must support the OpenDocument standard.
Agencies should begin to evaluate office applications that support the OpenDocument specification to migrate from applications that use proprietary document formats. As of January 1, 2007 all agencies within the Executive Department will be required to:
- Use office applications that provide native conformance with the OpenDocument standard, and
- Configure the applications to save office documents in OpenDocument format by default.
Translation: don’t start grumbling about what a headache this transition’s going to be – we already know that, and despite that have mandated this switch. This is a particularly interesting decision because we’ve heard behind the scenes grumblings from time to time that Massachusetts’ leanings in the direction of open standards and open source have, at the most basic level, had little or nothing to do with either, and everything to do with bettering their bargaining position with respect to Microsoft. This decision would obviously seem to belie that belief.
The importance here is more symbolic than anything, of course. While Massachusetts is undoubtedly a sizable contract for Microsoft, the revenue is incidental to the big picture: a sizable win in the US for the ODF. As many purveyors of alternative desktop or office productivity tools can tell you, traction for their products have been good to great in various geographies abroad, but far less impressive here in the United States. That’s attributable to a variety of factors: some technical, some political, some economic, but the net of it is that the US market has been a difficult one to crack. With a state of Massachusetts’ economic and political significance mandating standardization on an open standard currently not supported by Microsoft Office, however, it’s interesting to speculate on how long the market will remain similarly impenetrable.
Anyhow, this decision raises two important questions for me:
- First, and most obvious – is Massachusetts an indication of things to come, or an exception? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to this and will be actively seeking out answers within other state and federal agencies (anything any of you can do to help in that regard would be appreciated, incidentally). If this is indeed a precedent for similar future movements towards the ODF, this is a very big deal. Even if it’s not, or the decision here is limited to a few other like-minded states (Oregon, perhaps?) – it’s still a big deal, but likely one that Microsoft can work around.
- The second question, and the $64 thousand dollar one as far as I’m concerned, is whether or not we’ll see support for the Open Document Format within Microsoft Office. I’m already on the record as recommending this approach, but I’ve heard several times that Microsoft has no intention of supporting the OASIS standard in the product, and instead will work through a third party add-on for this. Will have to connect with the Office folks to get their take on this matter. Assuming for the sake of argument that Microsoft does not support the format natively, but does via a plugin of some sort – would it still be considered an equal footing player for office productivity contracts in an environment that’s entirely predicated on ODF compatability? It’d be like a bizarro world where Microsoft rather than Open Office would be playing the catch up game.
I’m also sort of curious as to what Massachusetts’ reaction was to the Office Open XML formats announced previously, but that point’s sort of academic now. In any event, as someone who believes that the Open Document Format is vitally important for enterprises, governments and ISVs the world over this is good news indeed. Following the finalization of the ODF, we’ve been asked by both consumers and producers of office productivity technologies whether we expect the format to gain traction, and my answer has been simple: yes (will have more on that shortly). It’s good to see that belief validated, if only by a single institution.