June 23, 2006 7:12 AM PDT

Belgian government chooses OpenDocument

In a blow to Microsoft, Belgium's government departments will be instructed to use an open file format for internal communications.

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

From September 2008 on, all document exchanges within the services of the Belgian government will have to be in an open, standard format, according to the proposal. ODF is the only accepted standard in the proposal. Earlier drafts of the Belgian proposal had put ODF and Microsoft's own Open XML format (which is to be included in Office 2007) on equal footing.

Peter Strickx, general manager for architecture and standards of Fedict, the organization that coordinates the ICT policy of the Belgian federal government, commented on the proposal in an interview with ZDNet Belgium.

"Increasingly, we are seeing e-mail and electronic documents being used in communication between citizens and the government and between companies and the government," Strickx said. "To avoid becoming dependent on any particular supplier, we are moving towards open standards." A draft of ODF was accepted by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in May.

From September 2008 onwards, Belgium's federal services must use ODF when exchanging documents, though other formats will still be allowed for internal use, Strickx confirmed. However, Belgium is leaving the door open for Open XML.

"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," Strickx said. 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 leave Microsoft with 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.

However, Strickx would not confirm that the Belgian government is envisaging a migration away from Microsoft Office and toward software that supports ODF, such as Open Office. "We are analyzing the impact" of the move to an open format for document exchange on the internal software usage, Strickx said.

Belgium would be the first country to opt for open document standards in this way.

According to Strickx, the Belgian strategy is likely to gain a following. He claimed France and Denmark are considering similar moves.

Dominique Deckmyn of ZDNet Belgium reported from Brussels.

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13 comments

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Taxes
Last thing I would want for my taxes is to be sent over to Redmond. Especially as license fee for overpriced version of WordPad.
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Come on, Microsoft
Adopt OpenDocument. Not your "kinda open but still
propriatary and not usable by anyone that doesn't want to
license your technology" version. Adopt the real thing.

Businesses will still buy Microsoft Office, even if it is over priced
and more bloated with every version. Consumers won't, but
then again, they ever did. MSO on home computers is almost
always bootlegged from work, so you won't lose any sales.
Besides, in a few years most consumers will be using Google
Spreadsheet and Writer.

So come on. Adopt OpenDocument, make life easier for the
worlds computer users, and make your detractors worry about
your "real motive" for the next couple of years.

It won't cost you a thing and it'll give Bill something to laugh
about at his retirement dinner.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft... Make life easier?
"Adopt OpenDocument, make life easier for the worlds computer users..."

Microsoft... Make life easier for computer users??? That'll be the day!
Posted by ayteebee (32 comments )
Link Flag
Smart Move Belgium
Congrats to them! They looked at the options and weighed in on the side of open standards not proprietary standards. Few more governments take this stance and Microsoft will be backed into a position of accepting the standard like it or not.
Posted by guynamedalex (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Congrats to them!"; For What?
What did this move (in terms of much needed enhancements/functionalities of the Open Office Suite) by the Belgians bring to the table? I just cannot use/recommend this product for some sophisticated usages at this point in time. Until then, it will be Lotus SmartSuite for me!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Link Flag
Of course OpenXML is an open format...
It says so right there in the title. What more does an IT manager need to know?
Posted by km4hr (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, the title. Of course, how could I miss?
Did you make similar observations about these countries based on their official titles?

German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
OpenXML
As far as I can see it, OpenXML is more complicatred and also more tailored for bachward compatrability with th existing MS Office formats.
Personally I prefer simple, stable software with not too much features in it, that I can undertsand.
Learning a simple user interface and having very stable software is more important to me then the feature richness that MS continuously has in their software (be OS or office).
That said, I like the ODF procedure and format more.
At home me and my wife worh with Open Office2. It is stable and easy to learn.
I think als on mixed content, ODF performs better.
Speed is no issue anymore with present day PCs.
However, by itself opening the XML format of Microsoft Office is a good thing.
Making any Office able to read OpenXML is, I think, not a good idea, since if the format is too complicated, the alternative Office suits are likely to run into the same porblems as I now encounter too often with MS Office (on my daily work)
Posted by gerben49 (8 comments )
Link Flag
OpenXML2
Apart from previously given arguments, the interoperatebility of OpenXML has still to be proven.
ECMA (Ecma International is an industry association founded in 1961 and dedicated to the standardization of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Consumer Electronics (CE)). that does the standard documentation of OpenXML is not a political or test institute, and takes the standard as it is. It is also an almost Microsoft only happening with Apple and Novell looking, and custumers like the British library. So there is no guarantee that OpenXML will easily run on LINUX applications as an example. To remember: Microsoft .NET was once presented as bridge also to LINUX, up to now it does not run on LINUX.
The ODF standard has the interoperatebility in mind and was developed by several software suppliers in 4 years in OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards). So this standard has a much higher chance to be really application and platform independent.
ODF misses the ability to catch all the features that Microsoft Office has, so those who would really need these extra features will have to communicate in OpenXML.
It seems to me a good idea to try the exchange in ODF. If there is a large amount of users of ODF that really miss possibilities in ODF, these possibilities can be included later in a democratic process for upgrading the standard.
Posted by gerben49 (8 comments )
Link Flag
To Hide Behind a State.
I think open-source softwares are a good thing when it is competing in an open environment, which is a free market. If, for example, Linux is "the best" operating system or Open Office is better than Microsoft Office people will use them(x). When it comes to governments they are not a market actor. They get their income by force. They can therefore afford to take other considerations. Their might be political reasons why governments are sometimes, for example, keen on Linux. Björn Lundahl, Gothenburg, Sweden


(x)= Definition of "the best": best satisfaction people receive when they use it for whatever reason.
Posted by Björn Lundahl (253 comments )
Reply Link Flag
To Hide Behind a State.
I think open-source is a very good thing when it is competing in an open environment, which is a free market. If people think that Open Office is better than Microsoft Office or that Linux is a better operating system than Windows they will use it (for whatever reasons), but when it comes to governments they can take other considerations because they get their incomes by force. If open-source is really going to pass the test as a winner, which is as the peoples choice through voluntary actions, it has to be through the market. Just now, as we all know, it is Windows. It might be political reasons why governments are so keen on, for example, Linux. Björn Lundahl, Gothenburg, Sweden
Posted by Björn Lundahl (253 comments )
Reply Link Flag
open market? and what about rtf?
most people, or almost everyone I know, first used computers in a government environment (a school or university). We had home game computers like atari, but the schools (and government sponsored universities) were getting macs and then windows pcs.

and when people use a certain operating system at work as well (and a lot of people work at the government), they'll tend to use it at home.

People go for familiarity rather than quality. If you've never tried linux at school or work, and no one in your family has, how can you know if it's any better? It's not like a market stall where you can try a new kind of cheese (and even then, at a certain age your taste buds are set). Rebooting the computer with a new operating system isn't what most people do, they get it preinstalled on purchase.

And because people are mainly familiar with Windows, the vendors sell mainly windows, bundled with microsoft office.

I only once bought a pc that didn't have microsoft word included. I wasn't shopping for it, just "market forces" destroyed the choice. In some countries there are wider selections

Think about Apple. I never owned one because I've used DOS / Windows for so long. I tried one at a games workshop once (there were no pcs, artsy types ran it I guess), and now I'm more open to an apple when this windows pc trash finally breaks down.

Reduced price software for schools and government is unfair competition. Not only for software vendors, but also for home users, who must come from increasingly priveledged backgrounds to be familiar enough with the right formats to get university spaces and government jobs.

It's fair that electronic work and study applications come in formats that don't cost hundreds of euros/dollars/pounds to produce.

But beyond all this, there already were standard formats like rtf right? What's all this nonsense about creating yet two more formats that aren't backwards compatible?

But anyway, Word Perfect lost out to Microsoft through the schools and Universities before it did to the home users... and Bill Gates has had meetings with world leaders including Tony Blair to assure that his product is familiar to every graduate.

A good political reason to be keen on Linux rather than windows? Not having the government network crash, that could loose you an election. And for democracy, it's better to have an open format so that rich companies can't hold your policies hostage (remember when word's spell check used to make sure everything you typed was "politically correct"?)
Posted by udigrudi (1 comment )
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