"We plan to implement ODF, using translator technology plugged in to Microsoft Office, in a group of early adopter agencies, including the Massachusetts Office on Disability, by January 1, 2007," Louis Gutierrez, CIO of Massachusetts ITD (Information Technology Division), said in a mid-year statement on ODF implementation, dated Aug. 23.
The statement also addressed the concerns raised earlier in 2006 regarding how the planned move to the ODF standard affects people with disabilities who use Microsoft accessibility software.
In July, Microsoft gave in to the unrelenting pressure to be more open, particularly with regard to its Microsoft Office Open XML file format and interoperability with the OpenDocument Format alternative.
Gutierrez in the statement said, "Promising new projects are underway this year to create translator software that will enable the Microsoft Office suite to translate documents from Microsoft formats to ODF and vice versa."
The tools produced by these projects, once publicly released and validated, will allow agencies to begin implementing ODF while leveraging the installed base of Microsoft Office and available assistance technologies, Gutierrez said, adding that "we anticipate one or more of these projects to allow ODF adoption to commence before January 1, 2007."
The move was welcomed by Marino Marcich, the managing director of the ODF Alliance, which represents a broad cross section of organizations, academia and industry, dedicated to improving access to electronic government documents.
"We welcome the news that plug-ins are expected to preserve full accessibility for those with disabilities, while also supporting the ITD policy to adopt ODF," he said.
The Software Freedom Law Center also recently gave the ODF a clean bill of health for open-source usage.
After implementing ODF at the early adopter agencies, Massachusetts plans "to migrate all Executive Department agencies to compliance with the standard, in phases, by June of 2007," Gutierrez said, but noted that these target dates "are not set in stone; they are dependent on a number of factors."
Those factors include the adoption by OASIS of ODF Version 1.1; the timely delivery of completed translators by one or more of the multiple vendors that are currently developing this technology; and the validated accessibility of the translators themselves.
"In order to meet our implementation timetable, the Commonwealth requires delivery of a translator suitable for use by early adopters by November of this year. At each stage of this implementation, accessibility will be our first priority," he said.
When the alternative, ODF-supporting office suites become more accessible in the future, they will also provide a means by which the Executive Department could meet its long-term goal of implementing open document standards, Gutierrez said.
The ITD also now plans to review its ETRM (Enterprise Technical Reference Model) every six months to reflect the changes in IT, evolving standards and new accessibility concerns, "any one of which may warrant changes to the ETRM," Gutierrez said.
But he also pointed out that the "successful adoption of ODF next year will not be the end of the story, but an early step in our multi-year journey towards a service-oriented architecture."
The Alliances Marcich also pointed to progress on incorporating accessibility into the ODF standard, noting that an OASIS subcommittee had identified, and is addressing, several aspects of the specification that will make it possible to preserve accessibility information in the document format itself.
"This decision signals the confidence of the Massachusetts ITD [in the effort] to utilize plug-in or converter technology so that all users can retain their existing accessibility tools, while still moving to ODF. This will inevitably lead to more accessibility choices—with other applications and on other platforms—than [have] been available in the past. We applaud the Commonwealth and the efforts of CIO Gutierrez to achieve full implementation of this open standard," Marcich said.