EC reluctant to recommend OpenDocument

EC reluctant to recommend OpenDocument

Summary: European Commission officials are unhappy that there may soon be two competing ISO document standards, and want industry players to work together


The European Commission is reluctant to recommend the OpenDocument file format, even though the format has been endorsed by international standards groups.

According to sources familiar with the issue, Microsoft's drive to get its own file formats standardised may deter the EC from backing OpenDocument.

OpenDocument is supported by many applications, including the OpenOffice suite, but it is not currently supported by Microsoft Office. Last Tuesday, members of the ISO and the IEC ratified the file format.

Last October, Barbara Held from the eGovernment services division (IDABC) of the European Commission — an EC body that promotes the use of open document formats in public administrations — said that IDABC will start recommending OpenDocument if it is approved as an ISO standard. But a month after Held made this statement, Microsoft announced that it was submitting its Office Open XML file formats to the European standards body ECMA International as a prelude to seeking ISO standardisation.

On Thursday, a source close to IDABC told ZDNet UK that although the organisation is likely to update its policy soon, it is unlikely to specifically recommend OpenDocument, as it is concerned that a second ISO document standard will emerge later.

"It is highly probable that we will strongly recommend the use of open document formats to public administrations. On the other hand, it is unlikely that we will make a specific recommendation, in case we will have two ISO standards at a later point in time," said the source. "It is likely that we will urge industry players to provide compatibility between formats, and in the long run to aim for one single format."

A spokesman for the EC's Enterprise and Industry Directorate General, which manages IDABC, confirmed on Friday that it is updating its policy around open document formats, and highlighted the risk that there may be two competing ISO standards.

"IDABC is watching the developments closely. The programme has started a consultation process with the Member States in order to produce new recommendations for the support of the use of open document formats," said the spokesman.

"Microsoft... has introduced its Office Open XML specifications into an ECMA standardisation process, also headed for consideration by ISO/IEC," he said. "At this point in time, it is unclear whether this will lead to two concurring ISO standards in the future."

The spokesman was unable to comment on whether it would be recommending OpenDocument in the future.

Topic: Apps

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  • How wet!
  • What do you expect. The EC can't be decisive, people might just get the idea that they are a useful body. No they best wait and see if Microsoft catch up and then ratify their format (I can't imagine that they are an organisation that knows what both their hands are doing!).
  • Apparently the EC is willing to spout about open standards, but lack the spine to actually "walk the talk". I'll applaud the move by the state govt in Massachusetts in the US to mandate ODF, and even testing a plugin to MS-Office that allows it to read/write to that format so the playing field is truly level. (MS had argued that since they weren't about to support ODF, and the state had to support their disabled workers' screen readers, that conversion was impractical. This punctures Mr. Bill's gang on their own inflated egos.)
  • The problem is ISO standards accept patents and restrictions of use that come with it. If MS format is ratified, it will forbid concurrent office suites (OOo, Staroffice, Koffice, Gnome office...) to use this format.

    The EC must enforce one format that is fully certified as an ISO standard AND that is implementable by more than one software provider.
  • One standard is still pending, is backed by a single company with a long history of wanting to control the industry, and doesn't yet have a working implementation.

    The other standard is already approved, has the backing of a large group of otherwise unrelated companies and other interest groups, and has multiple implementations already in the field.

    I wonder which one looks more appealing?
  • What a shower. They alledgely stand up big and tall by making M$ unbundle WMP but then lie back and let M$ play silly beggars with a universal format.

    Government is already admiting that they can not archive documents (thanks to M$ changing again and again) what can be saved by which version.

    To have aproduct that will remain constant and accessibile is the aim so who is so thick that they are not prepared to accept facts. The alternative is to ask how much is the bung.
  • The XML schema may be open, but from what I've heard the file format it's wrapped up in is as proprietry is they come. You may be able to handle the schema, but if you can't access the container it's completely useless. With the newfound ability to patent file formats I can see a situation where all competition is locked out of talking to Microsoft Office.

    I'm amazed people just sit back and let this happen. Then again, I expect a lot of health experts are amazed people eat so much chocolate or smoke. Like both of these things, Microsoft Office must be an addiction that people know is bad for them, but keep going back to.
  • The EC is clueless. Where there's one there are always more to follow. One standard will become two, then four, eight and so on. Or does the EC think that standards are frozen in time to be used in all eternity?
    We still communicate in the old morse code with each other, right?

    The EC shouldn't concern itself with the WHAT but with the HOW. Rules and regulations remember? Setting boundaries and guidelines. Not specifying which products of which version from which vendor to order.

    Should or shouldn't the goal be to be vendor independant? Should or shouldn't the goal be to be platform independant? Should or shouldn't the goal be to be product independant? Should or shouldn't the goal be to be patent independant or otherwise restricted? What's the definition of "independant"? Should or shouldn't the goal be to use time proof solutions? What guidelines are there for the duration data should be stored? Be disclosed? Be made available to the general public? What requirements are there for exchanging data with others? Are certain data types to be in a specific format all the time? Or is diversity preferred because of risk spreading reasons? How many backups? Etc, etc.

    Ofcourse the EC could make a RECOMMENDATION based on HOW things should be. Not WHAT things should be.

    The EC shouldn't be focusing exclusivly on existing and upcoming products (recommending the less evil option if you will). It should more focus on future needs that are required or requested. That way others know what to aim, to develop, to decide for.

    Once it's clear what is wanted others will deliver. Certainly if decision makers later on can be tapped on the fingers with questions like: this is what we wanted, this and that product delivers that, yet you purchased something else. Why?

    And ofcourse the EC itself can be tapped on the fingers if they come with something that comes with more questions then answers.

    In short: what's the (long term) reasoning behind the recommendation?
  • The EC couldn't be wiser. It should be "concerned that a second ISO standard will emerge later', and it should "urge industry players ... to aim for one single format."

    With this in mind, the EC should immediately endorse the ODF format and tell Microsoft to get with the program.

    Given that ODF has been developed by a consortium of industry players (OASIS) working together to create a standard file format and that Microsoft was welcome to join this group but snubbed them in preference for their own format, the EC should realise that it is Microsoft that is working to defeat the aim others for a single format.
  • Microsoft just paid (23-06-2006) the renewal fee for their "OpenXML" patent. It should be important for the Commission to know how MS intends to use this patent if it gets granted.

    EP1271339 - Method for generic object oriented description of structured data (GDL)

    Claim 1.

    A method for use in a computing system for organizing and describing information pertaining to one or more subjects comprising:

    providing a source file, said source file including a plurality of entries characterizing the subject, wherein said entries are an instantiation of an inheritance-based schema and conform to a predefined meta-language syntax;

    providing a schema, said schema comprising one or more families of templates, each template defining one or more properties of a set of entries, the templates in each family related by inheritance;

    associating one or more entries with an appropriate template of a family, thereby allowing such entries to be also associated with other ancestral templates in the same family.