Massachusetts pushes for Open Formats

In an article from Groklaw, the author points to a recent apparent agreement between the State of Massachusetts and Microsoft about the use of Microsoft Office file formats and compliance with recent requirements from the state about open file format use.

It appears that the state is pushing the company to relax their rather restrictive Office 2003 XML Format Patent License, such that the formats would be more universally read and written.

For those unfamiliar with Microsoft's recent foray into so-called "intellectual property," the company is doing its best to claim ownership of basically everything that has ever been created by, for, or on a computer and they are using their dominant position in the marketplace to force all of their "partners" to sign up for license agreements that bolster these claims.

Previously, I have written about Microsoft's attempt to claim ownership over the Internet Protocols (Is Microsoft claiming ownership of the Internet?), and they are trying similar tactics in the realm of XML file formats.

The effort by the state to limit the use of file formats that require proprietary software is something to be applauded loudly. If more people and organizations had these kinds of requirements, there'd be far fewer people locked up in proprietary formats and applications (something Microsoft would loathe).

As of this writing, the specifications from the ITD (Information Technology Division give the following as acceptable formats:

  • Rich Text Format 1.7 (.rtf) - Created by Microsoft
  • Portable Document Format 1.5 (.pdf) - Created by Adobe
  • HyperText Meta Language (.htm/.html) - W3 Consortium
  • Plain Text (.txt)
  • XML v1.0 (or 1.1 when necessary) - W3 Consortium Frankly, this list is relatively close to a list that I tend to keep for my own personal documents. For archival purposes, though, I also use a variety of open formats for pictures, sound, and video.

Even the rationale of the folks in Massachusetts' IT Division makes a lot of sense. They don't want to be locked into software, don't want to abandon their customers by leaving them out in the cold (all of these formats are readable on a Macintosh, Windows Box, and variety of other computers), and they don't want to get stuck 30 years from now with data in a format that they can't read.

Good show!.html