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UK Gov garners 400 comments on ODF proposal, extends deadline

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Already more than 400 comments have been submitted to the UK government, in response to its proposal to use the Open Document Format and HTML standards for sharing and editing electronic documents. The deadline for adding comments on the government's is extended to this Friday afternoon to compensate for down time on Wednesday evening.

Following this new deadline, the proposal and comments will be evaluated by a panel of experts. The panel will advise the Open Standards Board, which in turn will make a recommendation to the government's Chief Technology Officer.

On 28 January, the UK government asked for public comments on its proposal for standards involved in sharing and working with government documents. Introducing the proposal to use ODF and HTML: "Citizens, businesses and delivery partners, such as charities and voluntary groups, need to be able to interact with government officials, sharing and editing documents. Officials within government departments also need to work efficiently, sharing and collaborating with documents. Users must not have costs imposed upon them due to the format in which editable government information is shared or requested."

Office production

A month later, more than 400 comments were submitted by a range of stakeholders, including representatives from UK government agencies, the proprietary software vendor of a ubiquitous office suite, developers of free and open source office alternatives, and advocacy groups such as OpenForum Europe and the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Many participants commend the UK government for proposing to adopt the Open Document Format (ODF) as the standard. For example, the well-known LibreOffice developer Michael Meeks writes : "The proposals have great merit, are balanced and well rounded." He expects the decision will "stimulate investment and innovation around the Office Productivity space, and exceed the expected benefits."

Italo Vignoli, representing the Document Foundation involved in LibreOffice, writes that the foundation "enthusiastically supports" the proposal. "ODF adoption would create an even ground for competition for the office suites and the other applications supporting the single standard document format."

According to Vignoli, "ODF has developed an ecosystem that values technical excellence, progress and interoperability above all other factors. The Document Foundation is proud to compete in a market that prioritizes these attributes and at the same time helps governments, organizations and companies to cooperate in order to push forward the interoperability envelope."

Vendor-independent standards

Many comments focussed on Microsoft's alternative for ODF, OOXML. It is not part of the proposal, but Microsoft and some of its partners and resellers urge the government not to ignore it. However, Vignoli, Meeks and many others point to interoperability issues with OOXML. Meeks describes it as "an emphatically partisan description of the feature set of a single vendor's implementation." And, Graham Taylor, CEO of OpenForum Europe, points out that "a clean version of ISO referenced OOXML does not appear to exist". He stresses that standards need to be independent of any individual supplier.

Relevance

In January, Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič stated that all European institutes should be able to use ODF. Šefčovič, responding to questions by member of the European Parliament Amelia Andersdotter, about the EC's use, internally, of Microsoft's OOXML. "For exchanges with the external world, including citizens and other public administrations, the approach is clearly open."

 

More information:

Comments on the UK government proposal 'Sharing or collaborating with government documents'
UK Government Digital Service blog post
UK Government standard selection procedure
Joinup news item

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