Microsoft, Massachusetts Reach Terms On 'Open' Office 2003 Formats

As part of a compromise between Microsoft and the state of Massachusetts, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will ease licensing restrictions on its Word and Excel XML formats in Office 2003. The state, in turn, will allow these "open formats" to be approved as standards as part of the state's year-old open standards policy.

Eric Kriss, secretary of administration and finance of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, informally announced the agreement Friday at the Massachusetts Software Council meeting in Cambridge, Mass.

"We have been in a conversation with Microsoft for several months with respect to the patent they have and their use of XML to specify document files in Office 2003," Kriss told hundreds of software executives gathered at the meeting. "[Microsoft] has made representation to us recently [that] they're planning to modify that license, and if they're to do so, it is our expectation that when we issue the next iteration of standards, then Microsoft's proprietary formats will deemed to be open formats because there are no longer restrictions on use."

With the move, the state will give the green light to Adobe's PDF formats and Microsoft's XML-wrappers for Office 2003. Though not unexpected, the decision is viewed as a victory for the state's IT operation and for Microsoft. Still, that "victory" comes with significant concessions.

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Initially, the state will support TXT, RTF, PDF and open formats and will confer with international standards bodies, including OASIS and, when deciding what is deemed an "open format," Kriss said. Microsoft's word processing and spreadsheet XML wrappers, templates and schemas will likely be considered open formats, he said.

The announcement may come as a disappointment to some in the open-source world as well as Linux commercial companies that hoped to benefit from Massachusetts' open-standard policy in 2003.

In a keynote speech just moments later, Matthew Szulik, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat, the largest Linux company, said many governments across the world--including China, India, Israel and France--see open source as a way to build their local economies and educational environments without being dependent on a single U.S. software supplier. He added that it's not the job of government to tip the scales in favor of one software model over another--that is, proprietary or open source--but to ensure that the environment is competitive.

"What is most important is the issue of debate needs to occur," Szulik said. "The role of government should not be to select which economy works best but make sure it's a level playing field."

After his keynote, Szulik said he's not disappointed by Massachusetts' decision to keep Microsoft as an operating-system supplier. "It's a step in the right direction," he told CRN. "The more states that are promoting open standards, the better over the long term."