US state to adopt plug-in ODF strategy for disabled

Lack of tools in proposed format sparks compromise. Carol Sliwa reports

Louis Gutierrez, CIO of Massachusetts’ IT division, recently said the state will postpone a January 1 deadline to roll out open-source software that can save files in the Open Document Format (ODF). Instead, the state will, on a near-term basis, adopt a plug-in strategy to fulfil its policy calling for executive-branch agencies to make use of ODF.

Gutierrez declined to comment until the state issues its official mid-year statement on its ODF policy. That statement is expected to be made soon.

Gutierrez found himself in a bind in February when he assumed the CIO’s position in Massachusetts. The state’s ODF policy called for executive-branch agencies to be using office applications from January 1 that are conformant with ODF and to configure those applications to save documents in ODF by default. However, the only office applications that could do that — such as the open-source OpenOffice and Sun Microsystems’ StarOffice — are not supported by the major screen readers and magnifiers that people with disabilities use. That’s a problem because the state of Massachusetts IT division recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the state’s Office on Disablility to another state department to make software available that can be used by disabled people.

The lack of that capability in OpenOffice, StarOffice and the like sparked an outcry from various organisations representing the disabled community.

The emergence of plug-ins that can be used to save documents in ODF prompted Gutierrez to issue a request for information regarding the technology. Gutierrez allegedly said at a recent meeting that there would be no mass migration to open-source office applications, but reaffirmed his commitment to the ODF policy — in keeping with its goal of moving away from proprietary formats for the long-term filing of documents — said a meeting attendee.

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