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November 29, 2005

Sun urges Massachusetts to delay Microsoft Office decision

Sun Microsystems Inc has urged the State of Massachusetts not to rush into a decision on Microsoft Corp's new Office formats following the announcement that it will submit them to an open standards body.

By CBR Staff Writer

Santa Clara, California-based Sun has written to Thomas Trimarco, the state’s new secretary of administration and finance, as well as its governor Mitt Romney, encouraging Massachusetts not take a decision on Microsoft’s formats until they have been officially approved by a standards body.

While Microsoft has promised to eventually submit Office 12 to a standards body, the Commonwealth must act on existing standards to best serve its future needs for document exchange, wrote Carl Cargill, Sun director of corporate standards.

Massachusetts has reacted positively to the news that Microsoft is planning to submit the Office Open XML specs beneath its Office 12 productivity suite to Ecma International. If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats, read a statement from Romney’s office.

That statement appeared to open the door for the approval of the specifications as part of Massachusetts’s Information Domain – Enterprise Technical Reference Model, which initially selected OpenDocument 1.0 to become the standard for all state office documents by January 2007.

The OpenDocument Format, which is used by Sun’s StarOffice and the open source OpenOffice.org amongst others, was approved by the Oasis standards group in May, and is currently being considered by ISO.

While Microsoft is also planning to ask Ecma to submit its Office Open XML specifications to ISO, Sun has maintained that Massachusetts should wait until Ecma has approved the formats before making a decision.

Only after a specification has been approved by a broadly supported standards body – one that demonstrates acceptable levels of openness by being available to all competing products – should the Commonwealth consider including that open standard as one of its own, Cargill’s letter continued.

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Cargill also warned against assuming that two competing open formats would be better than one. The Commonwealth must also carefully weigh the negative implications of having two competing standards for office documents, he added. Especially since one of the primary goals of this process has been to guarantee the future accessibility of those documents.

Massachusetts’ decision to select OpenDocument has proved controversial, kicking off a series of arguments that have included a Massachusetts Senate Committee hearing, proposed changes to the Massachusetts Information Technology Division’s decision making powers, and investigation into the actions of State CIO, Peter Quinn.

It has also prompted, or at least been a significant factor in, a change of attitude from Microsoft regarding office productivity application formats.

Trimarco’s predecessor, Eric Kriss, stated during an open meeting held in mid-September that Microsoft would need to do three things to get its Office formats reconsidered: drop the patent on the format, publish the standard for peer review, and make provisions for future changes to be handled via joint stewardship.

Microsoft responded, first by announcing support for the Portable Document Format, which is also usable under the Massachusetts Reference Model for fixed content documents, then by announcing that it was submitting the Office Open XML Formats to Ecma, as well as bringing in a new license including a broad covenant not to sue users of the formats that has been endorsed by Larry Rosen, attorney and former general counsel of the Open Source Initiative.

While Massachusetts is optimistic that will be enough to meet its standards for acceptable formats, Sun’s Cargill also had another suggestion for Microsoft, one that the company has so far declined to accept.

It is clear to us that if Microsoft responded… by agreeing to include the ODF standard in future releases of the Office product, then the state could be assured of the many benefits of interoperability based on open standards, he wrote, before adding: But that is a business decision only Microsoft can make.

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