New York is Latest State to Ponder ODF

New York has become the latest U.S. state to ponder whether to use open standards for government document formats, though the move is not necessarily good news for proponents of the ISO standard Open Document Format (ODF).

New York State Bill A08961, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, proposes the state study how government documents are created, exchanged and preserved, and how these documents can be used in a way that "encourages appropriate government control, access, choice, interoperability and vendor neutrality," according to the text of the bill.

Though lawmakers in other states -- including Texas, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Oregon -- have proposed similar bills that might have mandated the use of open standards for document formats, none of those states has ended up officially supporting ODF yet. ODF is a freely available document format and rival to the default file format in Microsoft's Office 2007 suite, Open XML.

If what has happened in other states is any precedent, Destito's bill may end up going nowhere. Bills that would have required state agencies to use freely available document formats in Texas, Connecticut, Florida and Oregon were shot down mainly due to the pro-Microsoft lobby, while a bill in Minnesota was passed only to study the possibility of using open document formats, not to actually mandate them.

Battle lines between Microsoft and ODF supporters such as IBM and Sun Microsystems have been drawn for some time, and while both sides claim to have the best interest of technology users in mind, both have been criticized for promoting their own commercial interests. IBM uses ODF as a file format for its Lotus Notes 8 software, and Sun uses it in its StarOffice productivity suite. Key Microsoft rival Google also supports ODF in its Google Docs & Spreadsheets online application.

So far, Massachusetts is the only U.S. state that has officially adopted an open documents policy that will include ODF support, though governments in other countries such as Belgium, Denmark and France are ahead of the U.S. in mandating their agencies use open document formats.

Microsoft also has submitted Open XML to be an international standard in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), though it has been criticized for trying to control the Open XML specification more than is usually the case with standard technologies. Nevertheless, Open XML is scheduled to be up for an approval vote before the ISO late this year.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 secrets of successful remote IT teams