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TAC approval on conclusions and recommendations on open document formats

 At its meeting of 25 May 2004, the TAC (Telematics between Administrations Committee)

- recognising the special responsibility of the European public sector to ensure the accessibility of its information, 
- with a view to rationalising and improving the interactions with citizens and enterprises,
- taking into account the importance of the public sector as buyer of IT services and products,

endorsed the following recommendations established by the IDA expert group on open document formats.

IDA expert group conclusions and recommendations on open document formats

 Industry has taken important steps to address the requirements and concerns of the public sector regarding the use of document formats. The publication of the OpenOffice.Org and WordML formats has greatly improved the potential for interoperability of document processing.
Communications between the public sector and citizens, businesses and other administrations are frequently documents-based. Not all documents need to be revisable, and non-revisable formats may pose less interoperability problems.
Where electronic, revisable documents are required, XML-based formats hold the promise of separating content, structure, semantics and presentation. A range of applications are available that support XML-based formats.
Because of its specific role in society, the public sector must avoid that a specific product is forced on anyone interacting with it electronically. Conversely, any document format that does not discriminate against market actors and that can be implemented across platforms should be encouraged.
Likewise, the public sector should avoid any format that does not safeguard equal opportunities to market actors to implement format-processing applications, especially where this might impose product selection on the side of citizens or businesses. In this respect standardisation initiatives will ensure not only a fair and competitive market but will also help safeguard the interoperability of implementing solutions whilst preserving competition and innovation. Therefore, the submission of the OpenOffice.Org format to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) in order to adopt it as the OASIS Open Office Standard should be welcomed.
With these considerations in mind a number of short-comings of current document formats need to be addressed. It should also be recognised that XML-based formats cannot become the preferred document technology in communication with citizens and businesses until there is sufficient take-up of applications that support these.

Therefore, it is recommended that:-

  • The OASIS Technical Committee considers whether there is a need and opportunity for extending the emerging OASIS Open Document Format to allow for custom-defined schemas;
  • Industry actors not currently involved with the OASIS Open Document Format consider participating in the standardisation process in order to encourage a wider industry consensus around the format;
  • Submission of the emerging OASIS Open Document Format to an official standardisation organisation such as ISO is considered; 
  • Microsoft considers issuing a public commitment to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its WordML specifications;
  • Microsoft should consider the merits of submitting XML formats to an international standards body of their choice;
  • Microsoft assesses the possibility of excluding non-XML formatted components from WordML documents;
  • Industry is encouraged to provide filters that allow documents based on the WordML specifications and the emerging OASIS Open Document Format to be read and written to other applications whilst maintaining a maximum degree of faithfulness to content, structure and presentation. These filters should be made available for all products;
  • Industry is encouraged to provide the appropriate tools and services to allow the public sector to consider feasibility and costs of a transformation of its documents to XML-based formats; 
  • The public sector is encouraged to provide its information through several formats. Where by choice or circumstance only a single revisable document format can be used this should be for a format around which there is industry consensus, as demonstrated by the format's adoption as a standard.