The Standards Blog

Norwegian Standards Council Recommends Mandatory use of ODF and PDF

OpenDocument and OOXML

Norway is the latest European country to move closer to mandatory government use of ODF (and PDF).  According to a press release provided in translation to me by an authoritative source, Norway now joins Belgium, Finland, and France (among other nations) in moving towards a final decision to require such use. The text of the press release, as well as some of the statements made at the press conference where the announcement was made, are appended at the end of this blog post.

The Norwegian recommendation was revealed by Minister of Renewal Heidi Grande Roys, on behalf of the Cabinet-appointed Norwegian Standards Council. If adopted, it would require all government agencies and services to use these two formats, and would permit other formats (such as OOXML) to be used only in a redundant capacity. Reflecting a pragmatic approach to the continuing consideration of OOXML by ISO/IEC JTC 1, the recommendation calls for Norway to "promote the convergence of the ODF and OOXML, in order to avoid having two standards covering the same usage." 

According to the press release, the recommendation will be the subject of open hearings, with opinions to be rendered to the Cabinet before August 20 this summer. The Cabinet would then make its own (and in this case binding) recommendation to the Norwegian government.

This announcement is the latest in a series of news items, some concrete and some promotional, from which the relative progress of ODF and OOXML can be inferred. The former category includes actual announcements of recommendations and adoption by governments (such as this) and standards bodies (such as ISO/IEC's JTC1, updating the "fast track" progress of OOXML), while the latter includes a continuing series of blog postings - such as this recent post by Microsoft Program Manager Brian Jones, pointing to a new Open OOXML Community site, at which Microsoft is inviting its partners to post messages of support.

Statements made at the press conference at which the announcement was made focused in part on what it should take to qualify as an "open standard," with Roys stating:

Currently, both ODF and PDF are ISO/IEC-adopted standards. Would OOXML meet Norway's test if it is similarly adopted? Presumably that would depend in part on how one judges Ecma in the context of the words "maintenance by a noncommercial organization, and by the ongoing development work being based on decision making processes that are open to all interested parties." True, Ecma is open to organizations of all sizes, both for-profit and not for profit, with costs for smaller companies and non-profits being much cheaper. But acceptance as a member is not automatic, as at OASIS (which also admits individuals), and only the top-level members – which pay significant dues – can vote. 

What should one make of the mention of availability at "no or for a negligible fee?" Ecma 376, like OASIS ODF, can be downloaded free of charge (the Ecma download page is here, and you can obtain ODF 1.0 and 1.1 here). If adopted by ISO/IEC, presumably the cost of OOXML at the ISO Web site would be comparable to ODF, unless its far greater length is taken into account (ODF, in the form of ISO/IEC 26300:2006 is available at the ISO Web site here in printed form or on CD for 342 Euros, if you're interested in paying much more for a logo and different front matter, but has now been added to the list of "Freely Available Standards" at the ISO site, and can therefore also be downloaded at no cost from the ISO site as well).

Perhaps, then the Roys was referring to implementations instead, then? ODF is available in open source versions, while only Office fully implements OOXML today, and the press release makes no mention of converters or plugins as a bridge to acceptability. 
 
Be that as it may, given that Ecma 376 is already about half way through the Fast Track adoption process (assuming it remains on schedule), it seems that Norway's Standards Council would not be likely to recommend that OOXML would pass through the eye of the needle, or it would have so stated. Instead, Roys stated as follows at the press conference: 
Microsoft, as a major market actor, promotes OOXML, which is a better format for preserving semantics and special formats from Microsoft's proprietary binary formats. Standards Norway is aware of the work of making OOXML an ISO/IEC standard, and proposes that this process be followed closely. Norway should work in an international standards body to contribute to ODF and OOXML converging into a common standard, so that we avoid having two standards that basically cover the same area of use. 
Indeed, that would be a very wholesome outcome. Just as it would have been five years ago, when Microsoft declined to be a part of the OASIS Working Group that was launched to create the ODF standard. Perhaps if governments continue to follow the lead of Norway and others, we may see it yet.
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
The following is the translation of the Norwegian press release:
 
Oslo, May 11, 2007 - Today, Norway's Minister of Renewal Heidi Grande Røys (Socialist Party) presented the recommendations given by the Norwegian Standards Council (Standardiseringsrådet), a body of experts set up to the Cabinet on which document standards public services are obliged to adhere to.
 
The Council recommends that ODF and PDF are adopted as mandatory document standards to be used by all government agencies and services. Other formats may be used however, as long as documents with the same content are available at the same time in ODF or PDF.
 
In remarking that Microsoft is promoting OOXML as a better format to serve their propriety binary formats, the Council states that Norway in its international standardization work ought to promote the convergence of the ODF and OOXML, in order to avoid having two standards covering the same usage.
 
At today's press conference, Minister Grande Røys stressed the importance of open standards as a means of serving the public in a better way. Open standards are also important for improving collaboration between government entities. Public enterprises will benefit from greater independence from vendors and achieve better use of resources. To the industry, open standards will open up new business opportunities and increased competition in public tenders, the Minister said.
 
According to the Minister, the Council's recommendations will be submitted to a public hearing, with opinions to be given before August 20, 2007. The Cabinet will then make a binding decision on the Norwegian Government's document standards.
 
Follows:
 
Statement by Standards Council of Norway dated 14 March 2007, presented by Minister Heidi Grande Røys at a press conference of 11 May 2007.
 
"Proposal for a mandatory standard
 
The proposal deals with publishing public documents for presentation on Web sites. PDF 1.4 or newer or PDF/A - ISO 19005-1 are used for finished documents. ODF, ISO/IEC 26300 is used for documents that are still being worked on.
 
Alternatively, it will still be possible to present the documents as pure HTML or XHTML Web sites, if appropriate.
 
The standard must be mandatory, so that users are given access to public information, regardless of the software or software platform each person decides to use. The standard complies with the requirements in eNorway 2009 and Report to the Storting no. 17 2006-07 (the ICT Report) about equal treatment and inclusion of all inhabitants, in that they must not be forced to use expensive software.
 
The information can be published in other formats in addition, as long as they are also published in one of the mandatory formats."
 
[...]
 
"An open standard is characterized by it being reputable and by its maintenance by a noncommercial organization, and by the ongoing development work being based on decision-making processes that are open to all interested parties. The standard is published and the documentation is available, either free of cost or for a negligible fee. It must be possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost or for a negligible fee. The intellectual rights linked to the standard (e.g. patents) are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached. There are no reservations regarding reuse of the standard."
 
[...]
 
"Microsoft, as a major market actor, promotes OOXML, which is a better format for preserving semantics and special formats from Microsoft's proprietary binary formats.
 
Standards Norway is aware of the work of making OOXML an ISO/IEC standard, and proposes that this process be followed closely. Norway should work in an international standards body to contribute to ODF and OOXML converging into a common standard, so that we avoid having two standards that basically cover the same area of use."
 

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

subscribe to the free Consortium Standards Bulletin

The standard must be mandatory, so that users are given access to public information, regardless of the software or software platform each person decides to use….An open standard is characterized by it being reputable and by its maintenance by a noncommercial organization, and by the ongoing development work being based on decision-making processes that are open to all interested parties. The standard is published and the documentation is available, either free of cost or for a negligible fee. It must be possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost or for a negligible fee. The intellectual rights linked to the standard (e.g. patents) are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached. There are no reservations regarding reuse of the standard. 

Comments

[quote]Just as it would have been five years ago, when Microsoft declined to be a part of the OASIS Working Group that was launched to create the ODF standard.[/quote] 

Are you referring to the participation call send to several thousand OASIS members to join a TC created for creating a format for OpenOffice documents interoperability ? A call for participation  which also alraedy suggested an already full list of TC members consisting of only people related to or interested in OpenOffice ?  At a time when there was even a hint that it would lead to opendocument or even suggesting the format would be sent ot ISO. Why would Microsft consider joining a TC created by Sun/OOo for making the OpenOffice formats more interoperable when there was never any intention in the TC to look at anything to do with Microsoft or it's xml office formats.  Never in the history of that OASIS TC is ever considered that interoperability with MS office or the MS Office formats should be considered. Pretty strange when that is the market leader in Office documents and you are creating a standard for use by everybody.

Getting back the the topic I wonder why Norway would consider such a descision right now at a time when the format use is still hardly very relevant as still 95% is MS Office binary formats and whilst OOXML is still in the ISO proces. Surely even the simplest of people wil understand that the MS Office binary formats will still be with use for quite a few years. Waiting a few months to see whether or not ISO standardizes OOXML would seem more logical than hastily making a choice for a format that at the moment probably less than 5% of Norwegians would be able to use and a format that also does not have any full implementations yet two years after standardization by OASIS and a format that isn't completed yet as version 1.2 which will contain the formulas probably won't be standard in this year even.

So I really wonder why the Norwegian standards body would consider this kind of move right at this time...

Why not wait for ODF to be more complete ?

Why not wait untill ODF has a (nearly) full implementation ?

Why not wait to see if ISO will standardize OOXML ?

Hmm.  About that first paragraph of yours.  Just about every statement in there is actually inaccurate.  To deal with just the first few:

-  OASIS today does not now, and never has had, thousands of members (it's hundreds)

-  _Every_ technical committee begins that way.  And members pay attention to calls for participation because _that's why they join_ to begin with - to participate

-  Microsoft was urged to join so that interoperability with Office could be assured.

And so on.  About the second: the Norwegian plan does not bar documents from being made available in Office, and the assumption is that they will continue to be.  It just also requires that they be made available in PDF and ODF so that, among other reasons, citizens could access them using a free productivity suite (instead of having to buy Office) and so that they will have to worry far less about begin able to access those document 10, 20 or 50 years from now.  Pretty simple, really, and no reason to wait to see how OOXML does to allow the value to begin to be provided to citizens now.

  -  Andy