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Mass. warms to Microsoft Office standard

After picking OpenDocument as a standard, commonwealth is "optimistic" that standardized Office formats will pass muster.

The governor's office of Massachusetts said Microsoft's effort to standardize Office document formats could meet the commonwealth's procurement guidelines.

The state is "optimistic" that Microsoft's Office Open XML document formats will meet the standard for an "open format" set by Massachusetts, according to a statement issued Wednesday by Gov. Mitt Romney.

In a closely watched case, Massachusetts in September issued a set of technical standards designed to convert the state's internal systems to nonproprietary formats.

As part of the process, the state IT Division's reference architecture defined Microsoft Office products as proprietary, rather than an "open format."

Instead, Massachusetts decided that desktop productivity applications used by executive branch agencies would have to adhere to OpenDocument, a standard Microsoft does not support. The state also considers Adobe's PDF format "open."

Last Monday, Microsoft announced a plan to standardize Office document formats, called Office Open XML, in a separate process from the OpenDocument standard.

Microsoft intends to submit the XML-based document formats in Office 12 to standards bodies Ecma International and ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. The company hopes that a committee can complete the standards process in about a year, which is when Office 12 is due for release.

Two days after Microsoft's announcement, the Romney administration issued a statement in response to Microsoft's move.

"The commonwealth is very pleased with Microsoft's progress in creating an open document format. If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats," the statement said.

The statement is attributed to the state's administration and finance secretary, Tom Trimarco, whose office sets standards for the state's executive branch agencies.

Accepting Microsoft's Office Open XML formats would allow Microsoft to compete in the state's IT procurement process and blunt growing momentum around OpenDocument, in which Microsoft's competitors are investing.

OpenDocument, or ODF, is a relatively new standard and has had few high-profile government or corporate customers choose to adopt it.

Microsoft and some industry lobbying groups have been hostile to Massachusetts' decision to standardize on OpenDocument, saying it limits the state's choices. The move has been controversial within the state as well.

The state's secretary of the commonwealth, William Galvin, whose office is responsible for archives and records, has expressed concern over the decision. The state legislature has reviewed the decision as well and has sought to create a special review board to approve technical standards.