EC reluctant to recommend OpenDocument

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.


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