EC reluctant to back OpenDocument

Microsoft's drive to get its own file formats standardized may deter EC from endorsing OpenDocument, sources say.
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

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 standardized 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. On Tuesday, members of the ISO and the IEC ratified the file format.

In October, Barbara Held of the EC's IDABC (Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens) said that the IDABC would 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 standardization.

On Thursday, a source close to IDABC told ZDNet UK that although the organization 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 representative 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 program 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," the representative said.

"Microsoft... has introduced its Office Open XML specifications into an ECMA standardization 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 representative was unable to comment on whether IDABC would be recommending OpenDocument in the future.

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