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?