Technically, all thats happened is that the commonwealth of Massachusetts added Microsofts Open XML format, AKA Ecma-376, to its list of approved standards in a draft of the Massachusetts ETRM (Enterprise Technical Reference Model), an architectural framework used to identify the standards, specifications and technologies that support Massachusetts computing environment. To no ones surprise, when the final version of the latest update to the ETRM appeared on Aug. 1, Open XML was officially included.
Some 460 individuals and organizations submitted comments on the public review draft, many of which questioned the wisdom of including Open XML as an acceptable document format for office applications along with ODF (Open Document Format). It was all for naught.
As Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, a partner with Gesmer Updegrove LLP, a Boston law firm, and the editor of ConsortiumInfo.org, wrote in his latest ConsortiumInfo blog, Massachusetts—or, more properly, a small number of courageous public servants—did something important two years ago when they took a stand for open formats. It is regrettable that their successors have seen fit to abandon that principled stance, even to the expedient extent of waiting a short while longer to see whether Microsofts OOXML formats will be found to be sufficient or lacking under the microscope of the global standards adoption process."
In short, even though theres considerable doubt that Open XML will become a real, ISO standard, Massachusetts is putting up the white flag rather than braving the wrath of standing against Microsoft and the influence over Massachusetts lawmakers.
Some of you may still be wondering why this is such a big deal. Arent ODF and Open XML both open standards? Does it really matter?
Well, yes, they are different. ODF is a real open standard. I can use it. You can use it. I could write an office program that uses it as its default format. You could do the same, and wed both be able to read and write each others documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Open XML is open in name only.
I think its telling that Open XML documents arent even compatible with older versions of Microsofts own Office suite programs. If you want to read and write to Open XML in Microsoft Office 2000, Office XP or Office 2003, youll need interoperability pack download from Microsoft. Office 97 users? Youre out of luck.
There are also programs that will let you translate between formats. Of course, there have always been programs like that. I remember using early versions of DataVizs Conversions programs when the burning document format problem of the day was translating from WordStar to WordPerfect and vice-versa. Even the best of them, which would be DataVizs Conversions Plus 6.6, arent perfect.
Specific efforts to translate between ODF and Open XML, such as Suns ODF Plug-in for Microsoft Office also have translation problems. Microsoft and Novell, along with a host of smaller Linux companies are also working on the OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office. Unfortunately, since Open XML is more of a Microsoft mess than a standard—the first draft alone weighted in at 4,000 plus pages, I cant imagine that there will ever be a perfect Open XML translator.
In the long run, this means that no one except Microsoft Office users will be able to Open XML. And since its a "standard," no one else will give OpenOffice, WordPerfect or any of the other office suites a fair try. Once more, Microsoft will have set up the software game so that it and it alone, can be the only winner.
Dont think it will matter to you as a user? Just wait until you see what the next version of Office is going to cost you once Microsoft has ground its would be competition back into the dirt.