ODF is SA's national standard

Johannesburg, 22 Apr 2008

Open Document Format (ODF) has been approved as a South African national standard by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

According to Bob Jolliffe, of the Department of Science and Technology, ODF was approved on Friday last week, after a long evaluation process by the SABS department dedicated to standards assessment, Stanza (South African Standards).

The approval follows in the wake of controversial ratification of Microsoft's open document format Open XML (OOXML) by the International Standards Organisation (ISO), at the beginning of the month. Emerging market leaders, including SA led by the SABS, were among those who voted against the recognition of OOXML as an international standard.

While Jolliffe points out that ODF has been made a national standard and not yet a government standard, he says the DST is trying to initiate the conversion process in government. "As far as possible, we should ensure that file format standards used in government are national standards."

However, he says the primary focus for ODF for the time being, will be to begin public participation in its review and hopefully foster participation and development around the standard. "There must be some measure of input from the public."

Too many formats

Jolliffe says the Stanza technical committee involved in the evaluation of standards is looking at several other file formats that may start the national standards process. He says PDF/A, Adobe's archiving format, is the next on the agenda.

The bureau is not considering OOXML as part of this process as yet. "The reason we voted no in the ISO decision-making process was because the standard is simply not ready. If and when OOXML is a completed standard, then the SABS may consider it."

He says it is not useful to have a proliferation of document standards, and placing "OOXML into the mix is not a progressive step". Jolliffe compares the inclusion of more than one document format to the 1980s when a proliferation of standards were used, and finding the correct software just to open a single document became a problem.

He says part of the reason the SABS cast a negative vote at the ISO was because the standard is filled with possible patent concerns. "ODF in its current version has no patents at all."

Challenging MS

Microsoft has been actively marketing its interoperability strategy, of which OOXML forms part. Platform manager at the company's local arm, Paulo Ferreira, says the format will provide a new option and opportunity for all, no matter what platform they work from. "We understand that the world's technology is not homogenous, that there are mixed environments. OOXML will provide organisations with more choice."

Jolliffe has challenged Microsoft to stand by its interoperability strategy and provide support in its own products for ODF. "We would like to see Microsoft interoperate with ODF."

He says many people in government use and like Microsoft software. "Government has no desire to throw out Microsoft software; however, it's also not unreasonable to expect them to interoperate with the open source formats that we, as government, would like to use."

ODF in its current version was ratified by the ISO in 2006.

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MS defends interoperability
Emerging markets reject OOXML