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June 23, 2006

Belgium mandates OpenDocument but help for Microsoft is on the way

Posted by David Hunter at 9:46 AM ET.

Dominique Deckmyn at ZDNet UK:

The OpenDocument Format (ODF) is to be the standard format for exchanging documents within the Belgian government. This proposal, which is expected to be approved by Belgium’s Council of Ministers on Friday, increases the pressure from governments worldwide on Microsoft to embrace open standards.

From September 2008 onwards, all document exchanges within the services of the Belgian Government will have to be in an open, standard format, according to the proposal now before the Belgian Ministers. Only ODF is accepted as such a standard in the proposal. Earlier drafts of the Belgian proposal had treated ODF and Microsoft’s own Open XML format (which is to be included in Office 2007) on equal footing.

“Open XML today does not exist, as there is no product on the market that supports it. Once it is available as a product and proposed to the ISO, it is possible that the format will also be accepted,” said Strickx. However, there will be an additional hurdle. Open XML must also be proven to be easily convertible to and from ODF.

This would appear to set Microsoft before a simple choice: convince the Belgian government that Open XML is an open standard well on the way to ISO-approval, or support ODF. The latter may be the simpler task, as the OpenDocument Foundation is already working on a plug-in for Microsoft Office that would add ODF support.

Stranger than fiction – the OpenDocument Foundation may bail Microsoft out. Of course, Microsoft would then be at the mercy of the plug-in authors unless they do their own ODF support which they refuse to do. This plot won’t make the NY Times bestseller list.



Filed under General Business, Governmental Relations, Microsoft, ODF, OOXML, Office, Office 2007, Public Relations, Standards

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One Response to “Belgium mandates OpenDocument but help for Microsoft is on the way”

  1. Microsoft caves on Open Document Format -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] The press release, though, is titled Microsoft Expands Document Interoperability: Expanding on its customer-focused commitment to interoperability, Microsoft Corp. today announced the creation of the Open XML Translator project. The project, developed with partners, will create tools to build a technical bridge between the Microsoft® Office Open XML Formats and the OpenDocument Format (ODF). This work is in response to government requests for interoperability with ODF because they work with constituent groups that use that format. In addition to being made available as free, downloadable add-ins for several older versions of the Microsoft Office system, the translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software. The translation tools will be broadly available to the industry for use with other individual or commercial projects to accelerate document interoperability and expand customer choice between Open XML and other technologies. The latest such goverment was that of Belgium where it oddly enough appeared that the OpenDocument Foundation was going to save Microsoft’s bacon by providing translators just like those Microsoft is now proposing to develop. Microsoft is developing the translation tools in collaboration with the France-based IT solution provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany. A prototype version of the first translator added to Word 2007 will be posted today on the open source software development Web site SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter), under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license, where anyone can submit bugs and feedback or contribute to the project. The complete version of the Word translation tool is expected to be available free from the download site by the end of 2006, with add-ins for Excel and PowerPoint expected in 2007. Older versions of Office will have access to the translation tool via a free Compatibility Pack, which also provides free updates to enable Open XML format support. I suppose it’s less embarrassing to do it with partners after Microsoft’s previous adamant refusals to provide native ODF support. In any case, this has to be chalked up as a victory for the Open Document Format advocates. Microsoft does get points for folding their hand after the bluff became untenable, but one wonders whether the months of bad publicity were really worth it. Filed under Office, Office 2007, Office 2003, Standards, Governmental Relations, General Business, Public Relations, Open XML, OpenDocument, Office XP, Microsoft   [Permalink] [...]

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