Wave After Wave

I can't let the last week pass without mentioning the incredible wave of support that ISO26300, the OpenDocument family of file formats, have been receiving around the world. Last week we saw Belgium and India joining Denmark and many others in recognising the importance of using a truly open file format for their dealings with their citizens. I was especially struck by the wisdom of this part of the Belgian decision:

From September 2008 onwards, Belgium's federal services must use ODF when exchanging documents, though other formats will still be allowed for internal use, Strickx confirmed. However, Belgium is leaving the door open for Open XML [that's Microsoft's Newspeak-renamed Office 12 format that they are pushing through Ecma with the help of some corporate friends - S.]

"Open XML today does not exist, as there is no product on the market that supports it. Once it is available as a product and proposed to the ISO, it is possible that the format will also be accepted," Strickx said. However, there will be an additional hurdle: Open XML must also be proven to be easily convertible to and from ODF.

The old standards system is in urgent need of a fix - Ecma still has the ability to "bless" standards that it gained back in the 80s, even though today it is among the most closed and anachronistic of standards bodies. But the Belgians are allowing for that, requiring that even if Microsoft is able to manipulate this anachronism to get Office 12 XML a standards stamp, the pragmatic rule of round-trip conversion will also apply. Smart. The tide is turning.

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