OOXML not suitable for Norwegian government, says study

A Norwegian government agency wants to begin a debate about the file formats the government should be using for its data

Microsoft's XML-based office document format, OOXML, does not meet the requirements for governmental use, according to a new report published by the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (DIFI).

The agency wants to start a debate over the report as part of its work on standards in the Norwegian government.

For the Norwegian government, PDF is the recommended file format for publishing noneditable files, while Open Document Format (ODF), the native file format of productivity suites including the open-source OpenOffice.org, is the recommended format for publishing editable files. Versions of PDF, ODF and OOXML have all been adopted as international standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Microsoft hopes that OOXML, the file format used in recent versions of Microsoft Office and saved as file type docx, will get back on the Norwegian government's list.

DIFI's report was written by Hypatia, a Norwegian consultancy specializing in standardization and software accessibility.

The report claims, among other arguments, that too few programs are able to edit the docx (ECMA-376) file format in a satisfactory way. For reading purposes, the report suggests the use of PDF or HTML. Further, the report claims that the file format is "unstable," as there are more than 100 suggestions of changes in the standard, measuring more than 1,000 written pages.

The report is not necessarily bad news for Microsoft, said consultant Shahzad Rana, a spokesman for Microsoft Norway.

"DIFI states that the Hypatia report indicates that OOXML doesn't meet the governmental requirements in Norway. It doesn't conclude with anything, but asks for feedback from the IT industry," he said.

Rana said he will read the report carefully and then provide written feedback on behalf of Microsoft Norway.

He questioned the argument about OOXML being unstable.

"It's natural in the development of standards that the standards evolve. That's the nature of standards," he said.

He said that the man behind Hypatia, Erlend Oeverby, was strongly opposed to the OOXML standard during the ISO approvals process.

Oeverby acknowledged that he has been opposed to the standardization of OOXML, but emphasized that he has nothing against Microsoft as a company.

"I'm not against Microsoft, and support their work on standardization. They do a lot of good work on that area. But OOXML as a standard could be much better. It has the distinctive character of Microsoft's development since 1997, and is not a standard that's in sync with the way one looks at documents in 2010. This is some of what the report claims, and has also been part of my main arguments during the ISO debate," he said.

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