More Governments Choosing ODF

by on November 28, 2006 · 4 comments

Brazil, India and Italy recently joined the Open Document Format parade, according to today’s press release from the ODF Alliance. Brazil will recommend ODF as the government’s preferred
format, India decided to use ODF at its tax office, and
Italy will recognize ODF as national standard. Is this good or bad news for technology liberators (or neither – is it neutral)?

Hard to tell without reading the full details (Brazil’s document is in Portuguese). But if these governments are in effect choosing technology winners and losers, then this is a bad thing.

Now, I understand that the stated mission of the ODF Alliance is, essentially, to ensure that documents are accessible across platforms and applications, even as technologies change. However, I get squirmy when governments approve and select technologies in a way that that appears to be more than government asserting its power as a customer, and is instead catering to an ideology backed by IBM, Sun, and other large companies with interests in non-proprietary software).

How can we ensure that documents are readable and interoperable without governments engaging in file format beauty contests? There has to be a better way…and there is! I’d rather have governments express their goals – long-term access, interoperability, disability access, etc – and let the market determine the best format. After all, ODF will one day be usurped by a better format, but vested interests in the status quo could delay its adoption by governments.

  • http://mcgath.blogspot.com Gary McGath

    I understand what you’re concerned about, but in this case governments are also part of “the market,” and have to make their own decisions when choosing software. Perhaps the issue could be better stated by saying that decisions at the national level are likely to be bad for particular offices, just as a decision by a corporate headquarters could frustrate the needs of particular departments.

    One question is how rigorously governments are requiring specific formats. If they’re making no-exceptions rules, that could cause problems. But if interoperability is one of the goals, surely recommending a preferred format is a way to achieve that.

  • http://mcgath.blogspot.com Gary McGath

    I understand what you’re concerned about, but in this case governments are also part of “the market,” and have to make their own decisions when choosing software. Perhaps the issue could be better stated by saying that decisions at the national level are likely to be bad for particular offices, just as a decision by a corporate headquarters could frustrate the needs of particular departments.

    One question is how rigorously governments are requiring specific formats. If they’re making no-exceptions rules, that could cause problems. But if interoperability is one of the goals, surely recommending a preferred format is a way to achieve that.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis Villa

    I have no idea what other governments are doing, but what is happening in Massachusetts is that the standard is ‘we must store our data in open formats’, and then gives a definition of what an open format is, which ODF (and I believe PDF) meet, and which Microsoft’s format (no surprise) doesn’t. MS could fix this by meeting the customer’s legitimate requirements, but instead has chosen to lobby against them altogether, since actually opening the file format would (gasp) allow people to compete on a fair footing with Office.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis Villa

    I have no idea what other governments are doing, but what is happening in Massachusetts is that the standard is ‘we must store our data in open formats’, and then gives a definition of what an open format is, which ODF (and I believe PDF) meet, and which Microsoft’s format (no surprise) doesn’t. MS could fix this by meeting the customer’s legitimate requirements, but instead has chosen to lobby against them altogether, since actually opening the file format would (gasp) allow people to compete on a fair footing with Office.

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