Denmark: OOXML vote won't affect public sector

Denmark considers OOXML an open standard, regardless of whether it is approved by the ISO

Denmark's public sector will not be affected if Microsoft's latest file format is rejected or accepted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a government official said Wednesday.

In 2006, the Danish Parliament required that public sector agencies as of Jan. 1 support seven sets of open standards when procuring new software, said Adam Lebech, head of the IT strategy division for the National IT and Telecom Agency. The government believes the move will improve long-term accessibility to information by citizens.

For documents, public agencies must support OpenDocument Format (ODF), Office Open XML (OOXML), or both, Lebech said.

Denmark's mandate won't change, regardless of the outcome of a critical ISO meeting under way this week. The meeting could determine the fate of Microsoft's OOXML, which has been submitted for fast-track consideration. Delegates from 37 countries are in Geneva this week refining the OOXML specification and then voting over the next month if it should be an ISO standard.

Microsoft is facing steep opposition from those who argue that OOXML is overly complex, and despite being an open specification, would be difficult for vendors other than Microsoft to fully implement in software products. Microsoft's Office 2007 productivity suite uses OOXML as its default file format.

Lebech said Denmark considers OOXML an open standard, regardless whether it is approved by the ISO. "It would be impossible for us to use only ISO standards if we want to fulfill the goal of creating interoperability in the government sector," he said.

The Danish Parliament also mandated that public agencies consider the cost of using open formats. One of the main reasons OOXML was included is because Denmark is heavily dependent on document management systems that are integrated with Microsoft's Office products, Lebech said.

Denmark also found that requiring agencies to only use ODF would have been too expensive, mostly because of the cost of converting documents into ODF, Lebech said.

"We wouldn't have been able to only support ODF," Lebech said. "It wouldn't have been cost neutral."

But Denmark's decision to support OOXML has stirred opposition. The Danish Unix Systems User Group (DKUUG) has a complaint pending before the European Commission charging that support for OOXML unfairly favors Microsoft, violating European competition law.

They're asking the Commission to nullify the Danish mandate. If local governments choose OOXML, "then there is only one company that has a fair chance," said Keld Simonsen, vice chairman of DKUUG.

The Commission has not asked Denmark for input as of yet on the complaint. But Lebech said the complaint appears to ignore that local authorities can also use ODF.

"We want to move toward open standards, but we cannot change the public sector overnight," he said.

Denmark plans to have a third party evaluate the decision to use both ODF and OOXML in February 2009, which could result in a change of strategy, Lebech said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform