Writing for WindowsIT Pro, Paul Thurrott reports that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has reached agreement with Microsoft on a license change to Microsoft Office that may have far-reaching consequences in several arenas of interest to Gilbane Report readers.

Microsoft has reached an agreement with Massachusetts that will result in the software giant easing its license restrictions for its Office 2003 document formats in return for the state dropping a previous requirement to only use document formats based on open standards. In early 2004, Massachusetts announced that it would require all state agencies to create and store information in document types based on open standards like HTML… The goal of the format requirement was to ensure that the state could read digital documents in perpetuity and not have to worry about document conversions down the road if they adopted a format that was later abandoned by its maker. However, under terms of its agreement with Microsoft, Massachusetts has revised its requirement to include so-called “open formats” such as the XML-based document types supported by Office 2003 applications such as Word and Excel.

Thurrott goes on to say that this compromise with Microsoft should be viewed as a blow to open source advocates, who would rather see governments adopt open standards for document archiving. Thurrott has a good point; I know from my own consulting that government archivists would love to have open, high-fidelity document formats to choose from. On the other hand, it is potentially good news that Microsoft will be loosening its licensing restrictions on the schemas that underlie the ubiquitous document formats.