Last July, the UK Cabinet Office adopted a rule requiring government purchasers to limit their technology acquisitions to products that implement an established list of “open standards.” Last week, Sweden took another step down the same road as it further refined a list of information and communications technology (ICT) standards. That list currently comprises sixteen standards. A posting at the European Commission EU Joinup Web site reports that other standards are to be added this year.
The process in Sweden is different, but to the same effect as the UK process. In each case, the question revolves around which standards at minimum meet the definition of an “open standard” as contained in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). However, the current version of that document is somewhat contradictory. While it retains language favoring open source software, it backed off draft text that would have established a higher bar for open standards. EU countries, however, are free to set the bar wherever they wish at, or above, the baseline established in the finally-approved version 2.0 of the EIF.
While the current list of approved standards in Sweden is short, it does (as in the U.K.) include the ISO standard PDF/A-1, for uneditable documents, and OASIS's ODF 1.2, for editable text. The ODF standard (adopted in an earlier version by ISO in 2004) was the subject of perhaps the most vigorously fought standards war of the last 20 years, raging on a global basis for several years. The contest was sparked by the decision of the Commowealth of Massachusetts to approve ODF, but not Microsoft's competing XML-based standard, referred to as OOXML. That standard was also adopted by ISO, following Microsoft's contribution of the original text to another standards body, called ECMA.
Massachusetts ultimately adopted OOXML as well as ODF after severe lobbying pressure. Since then, the question of whether ODF, OOXML or both meets with the approval of cities, states and nations making such determinations has continued to be a contentious and closely watched matter.
For this reason, it will be interesting to see whether additional EU countries follow the lead of the U.K. and Sweden.