ODF is multivendor—providing genuine choice and interoperability," says Marino Marcich of the ODF Alliance. "Office Open XML is a single vendor format tied to the Microsoft platform and applications. That defeats the purpose of Massachusetts' open-standards policy, which was to support public access to documents and encourage choice."
ODF officially published in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in November 2006, and has since earned the support of companies like Sun Microsystems, IBM and Novell, among others. The purpose of creating the standard was to enable greater control over the management of records, information and documents—particularly as agencies move from paper to electronic processes.
So what's wrong with supporting both ODF as well as OOXML for government applications? ODF purists will say that the former opens the door for greater access and transparency, while the latter slams that door shut again. Massachusetts' hope to support OOXML is somewhat ironic, in fact, given the Commonwealth's initial position as a leader in promoting the benefits of ODF. Agencies around the world followed their lead, all seeking an open standard that encourages interoperability and choice. Six national and four regional governments, as well as more than 50 government agencies around the world, now support ODF.
This latest decision by the Commonwealth runs contrary to those very fundamentals that Massachusetts once encouraged, Marcich says.
"The openness of the [ODF] format means that government would have one guarantee—perpetual access to documents. A move to a format like Open XML, which does not carry that guarantee, would have a severe negative impact."
And while Microsoft puts a whole lot of stock in the translator project as a counter to critics, that is little more than a partial fix, Marcich says.
"None of these translators are sufficiently developed to allow for genuine interoperability, with an inadequate degree of fidelity for governments and insufficient collaboration capabilities on documents." Governments want to cut the ties between document and application, he says, which plug-ins can't do. "To a large extent, they're relying on good faith promises relating to interoperability, but to this day OOXML remains a single vendor format."
Important to note is the fact that ODF is not open source; rather, it can be implemented in open-source software applications, as well as commercial ones. Among the more mature applications that offer ODF as a default file-format option are OpenOffice.org 2.0.3, StarOffice 8, IBM Lotus Workplace Managed Client version 2.6 and KWord 1.5.
Given that such applications—as well as others—are in direct competition with proprietary options from Microsoft, many believe Open XML to be more of a competitive retaliation than an act of support for open standards. Otherwise, Marcich and Peter Gallagher say, the company would simply utilize ODF.
"I wish OOXML was an extension of the ODF effort, to encourage a base of document interoperability, but that's not what happened," Gallagher says. In addition to developing open-source applications for government agencies, Devis is an ODF Alliance member and strong supporter of the goal to make documents portable. "Given their predominance on the desktop, an XML specification optimized for Microsoft products makes sense, but [it] seems to have little to do with open standards for document interoperability. I don't see the two standards—ODF and OOXML—as comparable, as they are apples and oranges."