The Texas Legislature has before it a bill, SB 446, which will mandate that:
(b) Each electronic document created, exchanged, or
maintained by a state agency must be created, exchanged, or
maintained in an open, Extensible Markup Language based file
format, specified by the department, that is:
(1) interoperable among diverse internal and external
platforms and applications;
(2) published without restrictions or royalties;
(3) fully and independently implemented by multiple
software providers on multiple platforms without any intellectual
property reservations for necessary technology; and
(4) controlled by an open industry organization with a
well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.
The only existing standard that fits this definition is the OpenDocument standard (ISO/IEC 26300:2006). I believe that this is an important bill that will allow the state to ensure it has control of its own documents and have sent the following letter to my state senator.
Subject: SB 446
Dear Senator Hegar,
I am a computer hobbyist with a bit of knowledge in programming languages and have my own, hand-coded, web site (http://ripabe.net). This letter is written in support of SB 446, which will require all state agencies to use an open document format for their electronic documents. I am asking you, as my state senator, to proactively support this bill.
Since this bill is about specifying document formats for state use, a natural question would be, “Why do we need to specify a document format?” My answer to that question is, “Without an open, widely available, and implementable document format, the state and its citizens will be tied to a single vendor and that vendor’s proprietary format.” This tying to a single vendor (Microsoft) is essentially the situation we’re in today.
Effectively, SB 446 will require the use of ISO/IEC 26300:2006 “Information technology — Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0” (aka Open Document Format or ODF). This format is available for anyone to implement, and is presently implemented in Open Office and Star Office office suites (both available for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems), Google Docs (available through any browser), and IBM’s
Workplace. Microsoft has not implemented this format, but converters are in various stages of development.
OpenDocument uses XML, eXtensible Markup Language, for storing document attributes. XML is a superset of the markup language HTML (HyperText Markup Language) which is used to describe web pages to a web browser. It is fairly straight forward to pull document information from OpenDocument into web pages. This will aid in leveraging document creation and publication to the public via the worldwide web. The cost to implement this extraction from document to web site will be minimal.
Microsoft will likely lobby that their Office Open XML (OOXML) format, which is an ECMA International standard (ECMA 376), fits the description in SB 446. This argument is best left to the implementation phase; however, OOXML is virtually impossible for anyone other than Microsoft to implement, and will effectively keep the state’s documents tied to Microsoft. In addition, OOXML is much more difficult to interpret when extracting data for a web page which would most likely lead to needing to license further software from Microsoft to manage the exchange from document to web.
In addition to the document ownership question, the usage of standard, widely implementable, formats will lower the barrier to access. This will especially aid many of the state’s citizens at lower income levels. Inexpensive, computers and software suites can be set up at libraries, community centers, etc. OpenOffice can be obtained at no cost to the user, and Google Docs can be accessed with any web browser.
There are excellent resources on this issue at http://www.odfalliance.org. This web site is the alliance of vendors and others who support the use of the ISO standard. Members of the ODF Alliance include: the American Library Association; the City of Bloomington, IN; the City of Largo, FL; Computer & Communications Industry Association; EDS (based in Plano, TX); Google; IBM; Massachusetts High Technology Council; Novell; Oracle; Red Hat; Sun Microsystems; and Unisys.
The bottom line is, “Who owns the State of Texas’ documents?”. I believe the correct answer is the State of Texas and not any individual software vendor. SB 446 will ensure that the state maintains its sovereign control in perpetuity by requiring that all vendors implement the ISO standard document format.
I’m also available to discuss this further if you wish. In addition to my mailing address above, I can be reached via e-mail at redacted.
Hopefully, my State Senator Hegar will appreciate the points in the letter and support the bill. I’ll keep a watch on this bill and hope to report back that it was passed.