ISO crunch time for OpenDocument

The EC's decision on OpenDocument could depend on whether the ISO accepts a request to make the open file format an international standard

The OpenDocument Format has been submitted to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), according to OASIS, the standards body that developed the format.

Patrick Gannon, the president and chief executive of OASIS, said in a speech at the OASIS Adoption Forum in London on Tuesday, that an ISO committee is due to vote "shortly" on whether OpenDocument will be accepted as an international standard. If the open file format is accepted, it could become an ISO standard within six months, Gannon said.

Barbara Held from the eGovernment services division (IDABC) of the European Commission, said it can only recommend the open file format to member states if it is issued by a public standardisation body, such as ISO.

"Only specifications that are issued by public standardisation bodies are considered standards by the European Commission. So, from the perspective of the European Commission, OASIS' OpenDocument format is not a standard," said Held, in a speech at the OASIS event.

She said that IDABC will start recommending OpenDocument if it is approved as an ISO standard, as it already fulfils its criteria on open standards.

If the format becomes an ISO standard, this will not only impact the policy of European member states, but will also allow public sector organisations to tender for OpenDocument-compatible applications. At present, public sector organisations can only refer to open file formats, not to OpenDocument specifically, according to Held.

"Only public standards can be referred to in calls for tender," said Held. "If we started tendering and asked for OpenDocument formats, someone could sue us. Instead we have to say, 'someone that is producing a document format that's open.'"

However, the European Commission's position on standardisation bodies could change in the future, through a revision of the European Parliament's directive on technical standards, Directive 98/34/EC, according to Held.

Even though IDABC is unable to recommend OpenDocument to member states, it carries out publicity and informational activities, such as commissioning studies, carrying out workshops and doing surveys. "We can't promote OpenDocument, but we hope member states will make use of it," said Held.

The OpenDocument format is supported by a number of productivity applications including the open source office productivity suite OpenOffice 2.0 and Sun's StarOffice 8. But Microsoft has said it will not support the format in future versions of its Office suite.