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Created: November 23, 2004.
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IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Respond to TAC Recommendation on Open Document Exchange Format.

The Telematics Between Administrations Committee (TAC) reports that it has received positive responses from Sun, Microsoft, and IBM relative to the IDA Expert Group recommendations on adoption of an Open Document Exchange Format.

In May 2004 the Telematics Between Administrations Committee of the EC's IDA Community Programme announced its approval of the Expert Group's conclusions and recommendations on open document formats, with special focus upon XML formats in OpenOffice.Org and WordML.

IDA (Interchange of Data between Administrations) is "a Community Programme managed by the European Commission's Enterprise Directorate General. IDA supports the implementation of EU legislation, from internal market regulations to consumer and health policies, by facilitating the exchange of information between public administrations across Europe through the use of information technology."

IDA said the positive responses from the three companies "represent a significant step on the way to establishing fully interoperable and seamlessly connected public administrations throughout Europe and enable seamless and transparent transactions between EU public administrations, citizens and businesses."

According to IDA's summary, Sun Microsystems, "the provider of Open Office who has been instrumental in the process of standardising the Open Office XML document format in OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), welcomed the recommendations and said it would encourage the adoption of the OASIS format as an ISO standard. It also announced that it would shortly release filters providing import and export capabilities to other formats, making them also available for other software vendors."

The letter from CEO Jonathan Schwartz expressed Sun's belief that "documents are the intellectual capital of those who create them, whether they be governments, private entities or citizens. In the case of governments this means that the documents you create are your property (nobody else's) and they should therefore be stored in well-designed, truly open, long-lived and sharable data formats which can be retrieved and re-used by future generations." Further, "Sun fully shares the European Commission's point of view about the importance of standardization across the spectrum of this technology."

IBM's communication through Karla Norsworthy stated that "the ongoing work on open file formats in OASIS is an excellent step forward in efforts to develop a file format which meets the requirements outlined above. IBM follows closely the activities of the Open Office XML Format Technical Committee in OASIS and has informed OASIS that we intend to join the relevant technical committee. Indeed, we already offer products (IBM Workplace Client Technology) which conform with the current draft specifications developed within the OASIS TC."

IBM declared that it is "deeply committed to working with governments to promote open computing based on open standards. We believe such standards should be developed by formal standards bodies or through ad-hoc industry groups Such technologies should be published without restriction (other than reasonable royalties for essential patents) and freely available for adoption by industry... It is essential that public sector documents be available in a commonly used open file format so as to avoid use of closed, proprietary formats which result in 'vendor lock-in' and the imposition of a single technology choice on citizens, enterprises and other organisations seeking to exchange documents with public administrations."

According to the statements from Microsoft senior vice president Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft "has also agreed with a recommendation that urged the company to issue a public commitment to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its WordML Document specifications. In addition, Microsoft has highlighted its commitment to support the availability of meaningful documentation, tools and services. Microsoft also states that it will pursue actions to document the existing non-XML formatted elements of the WordML Document format in XML format."

The Microsoft statement references a licensing program announced by Microsoft in November 2003 which allows filters for Office 2003 to be produced by third parties. Sinofsky notes that the Microsoft license is royalty-free, perpetual, brief, and available to anyone.

A White Paper from OpenForum Europe on "Open Document Formats for Public Administrations across Europe" has also been published on the IDA web site. The OFE recommends in this document that "the European Commission and member states move towards the use of open document formats as a matter of principle; that support should be required in the tendering process for such open formats in software procured by public administrations; that software vendors should define the open format as a user default in software used by public administrations; and that administrations should ensure that vendors implement ODF as defaults in their applications sold to government." The document further recommends that "public administrations across Europe evaluate the OASIS OpenOffice XML formats as a standard", and that Microsoft should be "encouraged to consider the donation of schemas to OASIS."

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