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Promotion of Open Document Exchange Format

    Have you ever received a document you could not open? Chances are the sender used a different programme or version than yours to create it. Open Document Exchange Formats avoid users being locked in to particular products or technologies. For administrations this offers greater accessibility to their public-sector information and improved interaction with citizens and business.

Last update: December 2006

What is Open Document Exchange Format?
How does it work?
Achievements of IDA and IDABC activities
Who will benefit?
The role of IDA and IDABC
Technical information

What is Open Document Exchange Format?

Most of today’s electronic office documents have been created by a few commercial software programmes and more often than not each one of these programmes has its own format. To allow users to process a document they need in many instances to have the same programme (and corresponding versions) or a filter that allows the document to be opened and modified.

Open document exchange formats would do away with this need. They remove dependency on products and technologies by using standardised formats that promise interoperability of document processing. Through information exchange via documents being at the hearth of any public sector activity, document interoperability becomes a central issue in any eGovernment strategy.

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Interoperability between office application programmes is currently at an insufficient level for efficient eGovernment. The Open Document Exchange Format initiative is an IDABC action towards formats that will allow electronic documents to be exchanged among authorities, and between authorities, citizens and business in a way that does not force the use of specific software products and ensures universal readability of the documents.

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How does it work?

To realise the full potential of eGovernment, public administrations must ensure that their information is accessible to all as a necessary first step to improving interaction with citizens and business.

In this role, the public sector must avoid using products or formats for documents that force users to have a given product to interact.

There is a common understanding among European public administrations that electronic document exchange and storage should rely on open document formats. Such formats are to be defined in a process open to all interested parties and to be available for all interested and competent actors to implement without restrictions. Using such formats provides public administrations, businesses and citizens with a wide range of products capable of reading, writing and manipulating documents while stimulating competition and innovation in the area of document handling.

International standardisation efforts promise a fair and competitive market for industry, safeguard interoperability and preserve competition and innovation.

XML technologies are considered state of the art in this context. eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based applications separate content, structure, semantics and presentation. This allows electronic text to be moved from one hardware and software environment to another without loss of information.

Even though there was neither a international public standard nor an open industry specification available in 2003, IDA II started the ODEF initiative. Since then, standardisation efforts have taken up in speed and intensity and produced several results:

  • In June 2005, the OASIS Open Document Format was voted to be an OASIS standard
  • In May 2006, OASIS ODF was accepted by ISO to become ISO/IEC JTC1 IS 26300. Since 30 November 2006 it is a published international standard
  • In December 2005, Microsoft submitted its Open XML Office 12 for standardisation via ECMA (TC 45). The specification has been approved by the ECMA General Assembly on 7 December 2006 – and is now to be introduced to the ISO fast track.

Another recent development is the adoption of ISO 19005: PDF/A is an international standard for electronic document file format for long term conservation.

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Achievements of IDA and IDABC activities

  • A first policy debate took place at the June 2003 meeting of the Telematics between Administrations Committee (TAC).
  • A comparative analysis of specifications and products for documents exchange formats was finalised in September 2003 (Valoris report). The report evaluated the market and assessed existing or emerging open document formats (ODF) while identifying possible future market developments.
  • The major players identified in the report (Microsoft and SUN) were invited to comment on the report and meet with the IDABC expert group and presented their views on the matter.
  • Based on the conclusions of the report, in May 2004 the IDA II Management Committee TAC endorsed several recommendations on the use of open document format for use by public administrations. The recommendations stress that the public sector should avoid any format that does not safeguard equal opportunities to market actors to implement format-processing applications, or that might impose a product selection on the side of citizens or businesses.
  • DG Enterprise encouraged major software vendors to work towards increased document format interoperability.
  • In response to this encouragement, IBM, Microsoft and SUN have expressed their commitment to pursue actions in this direction.
  • Open Forum Europe (OFE), an organisation supported by major players in the field has published a White Paper (November 2004) where they commend the Commission initiative on Open Document Format and recommend that software vendors and member states' administrations move towards the use of such formats as a matter of principle and as a default format in public document handling.
  • An expert workshop on ODF plug-ins/filters for Office packages was organised in April 2005, in order to discuss technical possibilities to increase the compatibility of office packages.
  • In December 2005 IDABC wrote a letter to Member States, in order to inquire the status of Open Document Exchange Formats (ODEF) in the different countries.
  • The results were to become the basis of the work on the new “PEGSCO Conclusions and Recommendations on Open Document Exchange Formats”. The recommendations were approved by the IDABC Management Committee on 6 December 2006 – and replace the now out-dated TAC Recommendations from 2004.

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Who will benefit?

Open document formats are henceforth, in the understanding of public administrations, the way forward for the European public sector. The use of such formats will benefit administrations across the Community and improve their interaction with citizens and business, thus making eGovernment a reality.

Administrations in several Member States, e.g in Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy and Spain, have already implemented or announced to implement the new international standards.

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The role of IDA and IDABC

IDA and IDABC programmes have so far initiated actions to promote awareness and support of possible technological solutions. IDA had established a working group to exchange experiences and discuss findings of studies initiated by the programme. This work is to be continued in the context of the IDABC expert group on interoperability.
The thrust of the IDA II initiative was to develop the foundations for a policy on open document exchange formats encouraging the implementation of open specifications and international standards. IDABC will continue these efforts. In the light of a growing number of specifications and standards, it is likely that increasing attention will be given to questions of compatibility and interoperability.

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Technical information

Project start date


Project status


IDA budget

IDABC budget

2003 € 60.000
2004 € 0

2005 € 0

2006 € 100.000

Responsible service

DG Informatics - IDABC Unit

Project coordinator

Barbara Held


Countries involved

All EU Member States and the EEA countries

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Documentation on the promotion of Open Document Format

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