South Africa adopts ODF as govt standard

Posted by ProjectC 
By Alastair Otter & James Archibald
24 October, 2007

Open Document format (ODF) yesterday became an official standard for South African government communications.

The ODF standard is included in the government's Mininimum Interoperability Standards for Information Systems in government (MIOS) released yesterday.

In the foreword to the document, department of public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, says that "this updated version of MIOS contains an explicit definition of open standards as well as the inclusion of the ISO Open Document Format".

Open standards are defined in the document as:

- it should be maintained by a non-commercial organization
- participation in the ongoing development work is based on decision-making processes that are open to all interested parties.
- open access: all may access committee documents, drafts and completed standards free of cost of for a negligible fee.
- It must be possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost
- the intellectual rights required to implement the standard (eg essential patent claims) are irrevocably available, without royalties attached.
- There are no reservations regarding the reuse of the standard.
- There are multiple implementations of the standard.

The document goes in to say that: "For the purpose of MIOS, a standard shall be considered open if it meets all these criteria."

The OpenDocument Format is included in the section outlining "Standards and Specifications for Information Access" where ODF is one of three formats specificed for "Working Office Document formats". These are: UTF-8/ASCII formatted text, OpenDocument Format and comma separated values.

Tectonic spoke to Bob Jolliffe of the department of science and technology who was part of the working group that compiled the document. He was optimistic about the MIOS document's implementation, saying that it now cleared the playing field for the adoption of government's free and open source software policy.

Jolliffe noted two key features of the document, that of what defines an open standard and the inclusion of the ODF standard.

He explained, however, that there was "space for pragmatism" in deciding on what formats to be used. He gave PDF as an example, which was not technically an open standard but did not have comparable open equivalents. He said that when faced with a choice of standards, the most open would be chosen.

Noting that previous versions of the MIOS had included vendor-specific formats, Jolliffe stressed that "considerable effort" had been made to remove any mention of vendors. As such, the MIOS relates to the standards being implemented rather than the particular file formats of specific vendors.

Arno Webb, who is responsible for managing government's migration to FOSS, described to Tectonic the time line of the MIOS document's implementation. It entails four steps:

1. Ensuring all people working in government departments can view ODF documents. This will likely be done through the use of converters and will be completed by March 2008.

2. To supply all government published government documents in ODF or other non-proprietary formats. Although he did not specify a date, he aimed for this to be completed by the end of 2008.

3. All internal government documents to be produced as ODF. This is not likely to be completed within the next year, but should be done by March 2009.

4. The final phase would see the conversion of all legacy documents to ODF or other non-proprietary formats.

Microsoft is currently attempting to have its Office Open XML standard approved as an open standard by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). Early in September this attempt was blocked by the ISO, based on a vote from member countries. However, Microsoft said at the time that it expected to have the standard approved in a second vote to be held early next year.

This standard has been derided by open source commentators as not being truly open in that it refers to earlier, closed, Microsoft document formats. With the current global trend among governments and other institutions to adopt open standards, Microsoft is anxious to have a format of its own that will fall under this label.

--- Slashdot