My comments to HMG on open formats

My comments to HMG on open formats

ODF file iconIt may have escaped the notice of most of the country, but the Cabinet Office is currently consulting on the use of open formats, e.g. ODF, HTML, TXT and CSV, for documents when sharing them or collaborating with government on them.

As an ardent supporter of open standards and open formats, I decided it was my civic duty to support the Cabinet Office’s welcome move to openness, all the more so as Microsoft was asking its pals in an open letter (in closed .docx format. Ed.) to try and water down the move to ODF by having its OOXML format adopted as well.

My comments on the government’s proposals were as follows:

I too welcome and wholeheartedly support the move to open standards and file formats and away from vendor lock-in and proprietary file formats, access to which is solely at the whim of software vendors. No single company should have a monopoly on the formats used for official documents and documents of record.

In particular, I welcome the move to Open Document Format. I have been using ODF for many years in my role as company secretary of an IT co-operative and we have the satisfaction that our successors and future historians will be able to read our online and offline records without accessibility to our records being at the whim of a software supplier with a quasi-monopoly on office productivity products.

Furthermore, I would advise against any use of OOXML (also known as Office Open XML), which is not a truly open standard and hasn’t even been implemented properly by the company that created it.

I trust that you will implement open documents standards with all speed, after which you then need to tell other bodies, such as schools, local authorities, the community and voluntary sectors, that there are viable alternatives to proprietary file formats.

Another thought: in the UK there are various timescales – 30, 50 & 100 years – for the release of documents to the public. This implies that whatever the format, we will still need to be able to read them 100 years from now. There is no reason to suppose that Microsoft will be around then, so using a proprietary format as a standard must surely be an unacceptable risk for the readability of public documents.

If you wish to support the move to open standards and formats by HM Government, you have one day left as the consultation closes tomorrow.

Author: Steve Woods

Generic carbon-based humanoid life form.