Open Document Gains Ground

Monday, June 26, 2006

Open Document Gains Ground in Belgium, India By Nate Mook, BetaNews June 23, 2006, 2:12 PM

OpenDocument made additional strides in establishing itself this week, as the Belgian government certified the OASIS format as the only acceptable standard for internal documents. In addition, OpenDocument backers are promoting the format in India at the IIT Delhi conference.

The proposal to standardize on OpenDocument was approved Friday by Belgium's Council of Ministers, according to a report in ZDNet Belgium. Beginning in 2008, all documents sent between government services must be in ODF, after the final proposal removed Microsoft's Office Open XML formats as a viable option.

OpenDocument was accepted in draft form by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in May. Microsoft has submitted its new Office format to European standards body Ecma for certification, but because no product currently on the market supports Office Open XML, Belgium dropped it from consideration.

The push to move toward a ratified standard comes as governments begin to worry about document retention, with most communication turning electronic. Because OpenDocument is an open standard developed by a number of different companies and not owned by a single organization, its backers say there is no threat to being locked into proprietary software.

Massachusetts made waves last year after proposing a move similar to Belgium's. The state has set a deadline of January 1, 2007 for migrating to productivity software that supports OpenDocument, such as the free OpenOffice.org suite.

However, the Massachusetts Information Technology Division, which decided on the change, has faced much pressure from Microsoft and state lawmakers. Microsoft called the proposal "inconsistent and discriminatory," while others are concerned about the cost of switching away from Microsoft Office.

Microsoft responded to the threat posted by OpenDocument by unveiling its own open formats that will ship in Office 2007. If Microsoft opts to submit Office Open XML to the ISO, which some analysts have said is unlikely, Belgian officials say they will consider accepting the format. Microsoft must also ensure its new Office can read and convert ODF files.

The OpenDocument Foundation in May announced it was developing a plug-in for Microsoft Office 97 and above that would add support for ODF. The plug-in was developed on the request of Massachusetts, which would enable the state to utilize the open format without having to install new software on government computers and re-train state employees.

ODF is also gaining ground in India. The OpenDocument Format Alliance, comprised of over 100 companies, held its first national OpenDocument seminar at IIT Delhi to discuss the format's use in India. Topics covered migration from existing formats and the advantage of not being locked into a single software vendor.

Representatives from Sun Microsystems, IBM, Red Hat, IBM, Novell, and faculty from IIT Delhi, IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Bombay where on hand for the event.

"We are glad to note that with formation of a National ODF alliance, India too would be playing a pivotal role in spearheading the ODF revolution," said Shri R. Chandershekhar, Joint Secretary of the Department of Information Technology at India's Ministry of Information & Technology.

"Further, considering the huge potential of eGovernance in the nation as well as the need to adopt open standards to make our data systems more inter-operable and independent of any limiting proprietary tools, we feel that ODF is a great technological leap and a big boon to further propel IT right to India's grass root levels."