Norway likely to mandate open document formats

Norway is considering mandating the use of the Open Document Format (ODF) and Portable Document Format (PDF), which could eventually reduce the use of Microsoft Corp.’s Office software in the country.

The Ministry of Government Administration and Reform will make a final decision later in the year, said Knut Lindelien, who headed a committee within the Norwegian Standards Association that recommended use of ODF and PDF. It’s likely a regulation will be passed, he said.

The standards body, which studied different file formats for the last six months, concluded that ODF and PDF are the best choice for government documents since the formats are open and free, Lindelien said. Most government agencies use Microsoft’s “.doc” format, although some do use ODF and open-source office suites such as, he said.

Norway is among several European governments evaluating file formats. Belgium has adopted ODF, while France and Denmark are studying the format. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam is testing open-source software while the city of Munich, Germany, is moving its desktops from Windows and Office applications to Linux and OpenOffice. Microsoft, fearful of losing its Office customers, has been on the defense. The company is promoting a competing format, Office Open XML (OOXML), which the Ecma International standards body approved in December.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) said last month they are also reviewing OOXML.

Microsoft contends the specification offers more versatility and features than ODF, but critics allege the submission aims to shore up the company’s dominance in office applications.

The Norwegian Standards Association invited IBM Corp., which supports ODF, and Microsoft to make their case for their favored formats, Lindelien said. If ODF is adopted, it could mean that fewer government agencies will continue using Microsoft’s Office software in subsequent years, although any migrations would be gradual, he said.

“I think there will still be Microsoft [software] for a long time,” Lindelien said.

If OOXML gains further endorsement from the ISO and IEC, it could also become a recommended standard for Norway. “We are working very good together with Microsoft,” Lindelien said.

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