Governments should choose the Open Document Format (ODF) as the default option for all editable government documents, says OpenForum Europe, an organisation advocating the use of open standards in ICT. "ODF has clear superiority in terms of independence from proprietary influence or dependency on proprietary technology."
The advocacy group on Wednesday made public its recommendation to the UK government, which on 4 December had asked for comments on two challenges regarding its use of document formats.
"Document formats present potentially the single most challenging area for adoption of open standards", OFE writes. "It is vital that UK government 'stand up to be counted' in its implementation of the open standards principles."
The group points out that there are two competing ISO standards for editable documents, ISO OOXML and ISO ODF. Public administrations using the former, expose themselves to becoming locked-in to the dominant proprietary software vendor that is pushing this format. The proprietary vendor publishes 'normative variations' that leave "less dominant players to choose between the formal approved standard and interoperability with the preferred choices made by the dominant vendor."
According to OFE, ISO OOXML "is not very relevant to achieving practical interoperability".
"The ODF/OOXML debate continues," OFE writes, "but before a government can consider the merits of one over another, the bigger decision is over the economic and innovative impact of directly competing standards."
Last week, Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič recommended that all European institutions should be able to use ODF in exchanges with citizens and national administrations. The Commissioner responded to questions by member of the European Parliament Amelia Andersdotter, who wanted to know why the EC internally prefers to use OOXML, "a standard which is only fully implemented in the software of one dominant software vendor?"
Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, yesterday noted that the Commissioner had not actually answered the MEP's questions. "The EC's practice of preferring OOXML, a badly defined format which is hard to implement perfectly for anyone but a single proprietary vendor, is an admittance that it is locked-in by this vendor."
Gerloff says the EC has admitted this in its 2011 response to questions asked by MEP Bart Staes, "when it said that moving to a different office platform would bring disproportionate technical difficulties."
Writing on his weblog, the FSFE President called on the EC to "run open, competitive calls for tender based on functional specifications rather than brand names — something it has refused to do for two decades."