The UK government wants the Open Document Format (ODF) to be the standard for its editable electronic documents, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced in a speech on Wednesday. "Technical standards for document formats may not set the pulse racing – it may not sound like the first shot in a revolution. But be in no doubt: the adoption of open standards in government threatens the power of lock-in to propriety vendors yet it will give departments the power to choose what is right for them and the citizens who use their services."
The proposal is now open for comments until 26 February. Following a final assessment and recommendations, the decision will be made by the government's Chief Technology Officer.
The ODF proposal follows a public consultation that was opened on 4 December and that ran until 15 January, on the Standards Hub, a website of the UK government. The main reason for deciding on a document standard is to allow sharing and collaborating with government documents, without imposing costs on the citizens, businesses and other public administrations.
The minister made his announcement at the 'Sprint 14' conference in London, showcasing digital government services. "Over the past few years we've moved away from a small oligopoly of IT suppliers to create a more open market. And yet the software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. I want to see a greater range of software used, so people have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular propriety brand. In the first instance, this should help departments to do something as simple as sharing documents with each other more easily."
The news was picked up by IT trade publications in many EU member states, including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy and Spain. IT news site Inquirer quoted a spokesperson from OASIS, the organisation maintaining the ODF standard. The organisations "applauds the use of ODF in the public sector." The spokesperson added that the number of products that support ODF continues to grow." Journalist Glyn Moody, on his blog on Computerworld UK: "If this proposal is accepted, it will have an immense impact on the uptake of ODF in this country, and, by implication on free software tools that support it."
Sprint 14: speech by Francis Maude
Government documents – understanding what users need
Sharing or collaborating with government documents
The Guardian news item
Computerworld, Glyn Moody
Standard news item
The Register news item
PC pro news item
Techweek Europe news item
Inquirer.net news item
Heise news item (in German)
Corriere Comunicazioni news item (in Italian)
ZDNet news item (in Dutch)
Dr.dk news item (in Danish)
Tietovikko news item (in Finnish)
ABC news item (in Spanish)
IDG news item (in Swedish)