Open Source

Norway mandates open formats; the beginning of the end for Office?


In a move to ensure equal access to public information for Norwegian citizens, the government has decided to make the freely accessible document standards HTML, PDF, and ODF obligatory.The recent press release stated, "Everybody should have equal access to public information. From 2009 on, Norwegian citizens will be able to freely choose which software to use to get access to information from public offices."

Heidi Grande Røys , Minister of Government Administration and Reform said that ICT development in the public sector should be based upon open standards and that they "won't accept that government bodies are locking users of public information to closed formats."

From the 1st January 2009:

  • HTML will be the primary format for publishing public information on the Internet.
  • PDF (PDF 1.4 and later or PDF/A ISO 19005-1) is obligatory when there is a wish to keep a document's original appearance.
  • ODF (ISO/IEC 26300) is to be used to publish documents to which the user should be able to make changes after downloading, e.g. public forms to be filled out by the user. This format is also made obligatory.

Another requirement is that all state organisations should be able to receive documents in these formats.

With other countries and some U.S. states bringing in similar policies Microsoft has to take notice. Microsoft had previously chosen to ignore the ODF format, preferring to push its own open-source format Open XML; that could have proved to be a costly mistake as it now means that these organisations have to look elsewhere to the likes of OpenOffice or Star Office rather than Microsoft Office.

In response to these movements against proprietary formats, Microsoft has launched a sourceforge project called ‘Open XML / ODF Translator Add-ins for Office'. I'm a little sceptical as to how successful this will be; looking through the ‘Known Issues,' there are still quite a few incompatibilities between the two formats. Why couldn't Microsoft have embraced ODF from the start? I can't help but wonder why Microsoft shoots itself in the foot like this.

Will we ever see native support for ODF in a Microsoft Office product? Would government departments who are required to use ODF really want to mess around with translator add-ins or will switching office packages prove more popular?

12 comments
nikolas
nikolas

--Will we ever see native support for ODF in a Microsoft Office product? Native like without a plugin? Maybe in the Office 2007 SP2. --Would government departments who are required to use ODF really want to mess around with translator add-ins Not likely. They will choose the finished product with out-of-the-box support. OpenOffice (StarOffice with support) or IBM Lotus Symphony might be possible choices. Microsoft is able to release a patch to the Office 2007 to support ODF. Not a plug-in but a patch that installs plug-in and sets the UI so that it looks like native ODF support.

Justin Fielding
Justin Fielding

Microsoft could easily add native support but they still seem very reluctant. This isn't a problem Microsoft can confine to Europe as at least one US state has set ODF as their working standard and others could follow.

CG IT
CG IT

I think many miss the real issue which is having an EU economy generating $$ from software development and manufacture for global users rather than the an issue with Microsoft. What Microsoft did was standardize Office applications into one suite that companies and individuals could buy, all from one vendor. What the EU and other countries really want, is the opportunity for their software developers create the next word processing program that global users will buy, or the next spreadsheet program. Linux based O/Ss [and open source GUI/software] offer this. The only problem is that companies then buy their many different user applications from many software makers and subsequently, support of each is done though those many software makers. I think MS should have taken a tough stance with the EU. They should have said, ok, then we won't sell Windows Operating system in Europe anymore. They are, after all a private company and have the right to refuse to sell their products to anyone.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I would be emigrating to Europe asap if MS pulled their garbage from the market there. We know that will never happen, since the American businesses that do business with Europeans would then be forced into using software that supports the ODF, after all, MS office formats would not be supported. Pulling their products out of anywhere would kill MS faster than anything else. The economic ties between countries demands portable documents, right now that is ms office formats, if they pull their products then they have given that to the Open Document File format, globally. Which means any open source office suite, globally.

CG IT
CG IT

Though MS would have wanted XML, ODF will probably be the standard. But standards don't really mean anything. MS could make word use ODF and so whos gonna invest in a new word processing word Processing program that will replace MS Word in the business world if MS Word meets the ODG standard? I wouldn't. It's still good business sense to buy a suite a office productivity products office workers use and are familiar with from 1 vendor rather than buy the 10 or 15 individual office productivity products from 10 to 15 different vendors.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]It's still good business sense to buy a suite a office productivity products office workers use and are familiar with from 1 vendor rather than buy the 10 or 15 individual office productivity products from 10 to 15 different vendors.[/i] Umm, what 10 or 15 productivity products? Most office workers require three, at most four applications on a regular basis to do their work: word processor, spreadsheet, mail client, and web browser. Some workers are required to make the (usually misguided) dive into presentation software. Others encounter existing databases as entry clerks or management users. All of the four major office suites for Windows--MS Office, WordPerfect Office (Corel), SmartSuite (Lotus), and OpenOffice/StarOffice (Sun)--provide word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database capability. Of these, only OpenOffice will run on each of the five major OS families (Windows, MacOS, Linux, Unix, and BSD). http://tinyurl.com/ltm6o The remaining applications that M$ has designated as "Office" applications are essentially management and specialty tools that the majority of office workers will encounter only peripherally, if at all. The only exception to this may be productivity or project planning software such as Lotus Notes or MS Project, but none of the office suites include such software as part of the basic package. Most of the rest of the software bundled with office suites is used rarely, if at all. (When was the last time you used an equation editor? Or a dedicated note-taking program?) Those offices that require specialty software (CAD, graphics, animation, etc.) purchase this software from AutoCAD, Adobe, or other specialized/custom software vendors. Initial training costs for each of the four office suites mentioned are negligible. The modern computer user is usually fully conversant with the mouse and GUI and familiar with the basic functions of word processing and spreadsheet programs. Basic menu structure between applications from different vendors is very similar, as is the WYSIWYG display. Costs for advanced training may be reduced, or even offset, by a reduction in licensing costs, depending on the office suite chosen. Cost savings for WordPerfect Office over MS Office may be negligible when assessed against training costs. The cost-free license for OpenOffice, on the other hand, presents a strong argument for conversion. From what I've seen, the prevailing reasons for the continued use of MS Office in its varied forms are a combination of corporate inertia (why change if we don't have to) and fear (What if? Syndrome).

Justin Fielding
Justin Fielding

Surely a company with the resources that Microsoft has should be able to implement ODF support within a few months at most. Sure they wanted to create a competing standard but from the look of it that's just not going to fly; so why don't they swallow their pride and release a plug-in giving full ODF support? Why bother creating a sourceforge project and XML to ODF translators etc? I don't want to put anyone's nose out of joint but I would just like to point out that 'Europe' is not a country--it's a continent housing 48 independent nations. Norway and 20 other European countries are not members of the European Union (EU), so this isn't a case of the evil union bullying poor old Microsoft again. Microsoft pull out of Europe? That's an economically sound idea, I wonder why they didn't think of that themselves... ;)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]I can't help but wonder why Microsoft shoots itself in the foot like this.[/i] Several years ago, I saw a commentary speculating that Gates & Ballmer, et al., still see Microsoft as the minuscule startup it was in the early 80s and were unable to accept that M$ Windows had become the 800-pound gorilla of operating systems and MS Office the rampaging bull of office suites. My personal feeling on the matter is that they actually believe what they are doing is the "right" thing and don't understand how anybody could not want what they want. They know what's best for us and our computers and are going to do it because they know it's best, whether we want them to or not. They're our computer nanny. That, or the ABMers are correct: M$ are the Borg and we WILL be assimilated. (ABM = Anything But Microsoft) Edit: speling

Jaqui
Jaqui

after all MS did reach that agreement with the SAMBA developers to give them the protocol specification for MS' smb protocol.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I keep hearing that MS will release specs to developers, then change a service or API so the protocols are not exactly as specified. I don't know if this is FOSS-generated FUD, speculation, or old news, but it does raise the question of whether the protocol specs are accurate. Note: original post was edited while you were responding to it.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I'm sure that any alterations to the M$ accepted [b]Standards[/b] where only brought about because the EU forced M$ hand. :D The sooner that M$ takes control of the EU the sooner that things will be much better for all concerned. :^0 Well I'm sure that Gates/Ballmer feel that way at least. :p Col

j-mart
j-mart

I work in engineering / manufacturing we can use bearings, bolts and a whole range of fittings that are made to international standards. We can purchase these items from any manufacturer or source and know they will work. I long for the day when all digital resources we use adhere to standards. This make some things a lot simpler than they are now.