California may join rush of states toward ODF

A California legislator last Friday introduced a bill that would mandate the use of open, XML-based document file formats by the state government starting next January. It is the third such state-level legislation to be introduced this month.

The bill, officially known as AB 1668, would require state agencies to "create, exchange and preserve all documents, as specified, and to start to become equipped to receive any document in an open, XML-based file format." The measure would also require the California Department of Technology Services (DTS) to evaluate all qualifying file formats and develop usage guidelines for agencies to follow.

California joins Minnesota and Texas, where were filed earlier this month. If approved, the bills in the latter two states would take effect in July and September of next year, respectively.

Like the other two measures, the bill in the California Assembly doesn't list any specific document formats that could be used. But as in Minnesota and Texas, the introduction of such a bill appears to be another potential win for backers of the Open Document Format (ODF) for Office Applications.

ODF is used by the open-source desktop applications suite and is being pushed by vendors such as IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. as an alternative to the new Office Open XML format that Microsoft Corp. has developed for its Office 2007 software. Backers claim that ODF is more suitable for long-term archiving of public files than Open XML is, because it has already been and as an open standard by the Geneva-based ISO standards body, and because it is used natively by software that is freely available.

The California bill specifies that in evaluating file formats, the DTS should consider factors such as their ability to interoperate "between diverse internal and external platforms and applications," and whether they are available royalty-free, have been implemented by multiple vendors and are controlled by an open group "with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard."