Belgian gov't moves toward OpenDocument format

In another blow to the supremacy of Microsoft's Office franchise, Belgium on Friday became the second governmental body to approve the use of the OpenDocument format as a way to exchange government documents.

By September 2007, all Belgian federal agencies must use software that can read reports, spreadsheets, presentations and other types of data files saved in OpenDocument (ODF), a free XML file format certified as a standard by the International Standards Organization (ISO) last month.

"If the impact analysis shows no adverse impact, ODF might even become the standard exchange format in September 2008," according to information posted on the Web site of the Belgian Government Interoperability Framework. Belgium joins the state of Massachusetts in a symbolic break from Microsoft. Massachusetts plans to make ODF its standard for all official government documents by Jan. 1.

Though it is a small country with just 10 million citizens, Belgium's embrace of ODF could have big ripple effects. Its capital, Brussels, is the headquarters of the European Union, making it an important political center in Europe.

The Danish and Norwegian governments are also considering moving to OpenDocument, according to Jason Faulkner, a member of the OpenDocument Fellowship, an ODF advocacy group.

"Given the current favorable attitude of the European Community to open standards, and, in particular, to the way that European governments and initiatives are defining open standards, it is not surprising that a growing number of European countries are moving to adopt ODF, which is conducive to not only proprietary but open-source implementations as well," said Andy Updegrove, an open-source advocate and Boston-based lawyer.

ODF is the default file format in OpenOffice, StarOffice and an increasing number of Web-based word processing and spreadsheet applications. Though only utilized by a small percentage of users worldwide today, ODF is supported by some of the largest technology vendors, including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Novell. They argue that the format's open, interoperable nature makes it suitable for groups concerned about long-term archiving of files.

ODF's chief opponent is Microsoft, whose market-leading Office suite is used by more than 400 million people worldwide, according to the vendor. By default, Office applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint save files in proprietary file formats owned by Microsoft, such as .doc, .xls and .ppt, respectively -- although users can also choose open formats such as Text (.txt) and Rich Text Format (.rtf).

Some experts say that users' need to remain compatible with Office formats has been key to maintaining Microsoft's market dominance. Microsoft has argued that ODF stifles its own innovation and limits customer choice. It is developing a competing format, OpenXML, that will debut in its forthcoming Office 2007. Microsoft has garnered the support of other vendors for OpenXML and is applying to ECMA International, a rival standards body to ISO, for certification as an open standard.

"We understand the Belgian government's desire to support open-standard document formats and understand that other formats can qualify over time," said Alan Yates, Microsoft's general manager for information worker business strategy. "We believe that OpenXML formats will meet the government's criteria shortly."

In Massachusetts, the controversy that followed last year's decision to adopt ODF led to the resignation of then state CIO Peter Quinn. His successor, Louis Gutierrez, last month put out a search for third-party plug-in software that would enable Office users to easily read and save files in the OpenDocument format.

Massachusetts is now testing those plug-ins, according to Gary Edwards, a software developer who has created plug-ins for Word and Excel and is working on one for PowerPoint. Edwards said his plug-in allows Office users save files in the OpenDocument format without losing formatting information and can open those files up to 25 percent faster than equivalent Office files.

Such plug-ins could enable Massachusetts to continue using Office in the short run or indefinitely while fulfilling its requirement to move to ODF, Gutierrez said. It is unclear whether such plug-ins, combined with Microsoft Office, would meet the mandate from the Belgian government.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Eric Lai

Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >

Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?