The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has announced the adoption of the OpenDocument XML file format as its preferred method for storing government documents. In doing so, Massachusetts joins the Australian Federal Government in adopting this format for long-term electronic document storage. Open Source Victoria (OSV) recently called on all remaining Australian states and government agencies to also adopt this format as a viable approach to ensuring guaranteed access to public sector documents and data in perpetuity.
"Open Source Victoria congratulates the U.S. State of Massachusetts for taking the lead and acting to future-proof its electronic archives. We urge all Australian Governments, federal, state and local to do the same," said OSV spokesperson Donna Benjamin. "Doing so will greatly increase the likelihood that documents can be read and used in decades to come. It also guarantees there will be multiple sources for tools which read and write this format."
"OpenDocument is an agreed standard developed and supported by a global consortium. They have committed to a transparent specification that maximises accessibility now and into the future. As such, OpenDocument is the only open standard XML document format available. By using OpenDocument, governments will avoid proprietary or legally-encumbered formats. Whilst Microsoft's document formats remain popular, there is no guarantee they will be accessible into the future. Users already experience serious compatibility issues when sharing documents between versions of Microsoft Office -- this will get worse with time," continued Benjamin.
OpenDocument is supported by the following applications: OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, KOffice, Abiword, eZ publish, IBM Workplace, Knomos case management, Scribus DTP, TextMaker and Visioo Writer. Importantly, many of these applications are free for all users and also multi-platform.
Benjamin explains the difference like this: "It's all about control. With OpenDocument, you are in control of what you do with your documents. With Microsoft Office, Microsoft is in control. Open standards in file formats mean that anyone can access the complete specification and implement software which can read and write OpenDocument files. Microsoft, by comparison, hides information because it wants to make sure people keep using its own office suite, and has embedded legal traps in the licence of its new Word XML format. We recommend that agencies move to OpenDocument, which has already been field-tested by tens of millions of users for five years."
Another benefit of OpenDocument is risk-mitigation. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts stated that legal concerns were behind its decision to only use document formats based on open standards. Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said they had concerns about the openness of the Microsoft XML schemas as well as with a potential for patent issues arising in the future:
"What we've backed away from at this point is the use of a proprietary standard and we want standards that are published and free of legal encumbrances, and we don't want two standards," Kriss said; reported in a ZDnet article.
Benjamin referred to the The Australian National Archive who have also selected OpenDocument. "The ANA's decision to use truly open standards for the electronic archiving of documents is the best long-term bet." However she notes that OSV is concerned other government agencies, state and federal, may be jeopardising future access to Australia's government documents if they fail to adopt an open approach. Benjamin asks "If OpenDocument is the preferred solution from this country's foremost archiving experts, then shouldn't all our agencies follow suit?"