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).
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
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.