US state plans to abandon Microsoft Office

US state plans to abandon Microsoft Office

Massachusetts plans to phase out Microsoft Office in favor of office suites that support OpenDocument, according to the commonwealth.

Massachusetts unveiled plans to phase out Microsoft's Office in favor of office productivity suites that support an open-document format from the OASIS standards body, according to a statement on the commonwealth's Web site.

In the statement, Peter Quinn, chief information officer for Massachusetts, said that the state will support the newly ratified Open Document Format for Office Applications, or OpenDocument, as the standard for its office documents. Developed within OASIS (Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), OpenDocument is an XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based file format that covers the features required by text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents.

The decision to move to OpenDocument from proprietary document formats came after "a series of discussions with industry representatives and experts about our future direction," according to Quinn. Those discussions focused on "open formats particularly as they relate to office documents, their importance for the current and future accessibility of government records, and the relative 'openness' of the format options available to us," he said.

Microsoft Office and other productivity suites such as LotusNotes and WordPerfect that Massachusetts government agencies currently use support proprietary document formats, according to the commonwealth. Suites that support OpenDocument include OpenOffice, StarOffice, KOffice and IBM Workplace.

Because most of Massachusetts' government agencies are using these suites that support proprietary document formats, the "magnitude of the new migration effort to this new open standard is considerable," according to the commonwealth. It expects its agencies to develop phased migration plans with a target implementation date of Jan. 1, 2007.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said that the company's support of XML in Office and other products shows that Microsoft, too, is in favor of open formats for data interoperability and the archiving of public records. However, Microsoft does not believe the public sector should force a single document format on its agencies, especially one that may be less functional than what they are already using, the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman added that as various file formats, such as those for documents, photos, video and audio files, become more intertwined, it would be a mistake to support OpenDocument and not other XML schemas for different file formats.

While a number of government agencies across the world have expressed plans to drop Microsoft products in favor of open-source and open-standard technologies, Massachusetts is the first major public-sector institution to do so in the US. Other noteworthy instances in which Microsoft software is being replaced by open-source technology include the adoption of Linux in the cities of Munich, Germany; Bergen, Norway; and Vienna.

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