The ability to freely connect and communicate through information technology is an indispensable tool for individuals, public administrations, non-governmental organisations and enterprises around the world. This connectivity relies upon seamless interoperability among disparate information technology systems. Interoperability means a computer program can communicate and exchange information with other computer programs and that both programs can use that information. Widespread interoperability across varying systems can only be achieved through reliance upon standard technology interfaces that establish clear rules for communicating. While some of these technology standards are ‘open,’ others are ‘restricted’ or ‘closed,’ meaning they don’t achieve the highest possible level of interoperability. A very different environment for consumers and businesses results from these different standardization models.
ISO Open Document Format versus Microsoft’s Office Open XML
While the best example of a communications system based on open standards is the Internet, perhaps the best counter-example lies in the proprietary world of the desktop computing environment, which is dominated by Microsoft’s closed operating system (Windows). In an attempt to introduce widespread interoperability, competition, and consumer choice to this application area, major industry players have created a truly open standard for office productivity applications, called the Open Document Format (ODF). The standard was initially created through the OASIS standards organization, and in May 2006, ODF was formally recognized as an international standard by the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
However, Microsoft is seeking to displace the interoperability benefits of ODF with its new Vista and Microsoft Office products. Their action reinforces their monopoly position: as opposed to the the ODF file format , which operates on multiple vendor platforms, Microsoft’s competing Office Open XML (OOXML) only runs seamlessly on the Microsoft Office platform.
It is important to note that a ‘de facto’ standard is not necessarily an open standard. By definition an open standard has the following essential characteristics:
What can consumers – particularly in the public sector – do to ensure interoperability through open standards?
ECIS is preparing a more detailed position on the risks of OOXML and advantages of ODF that will be available on this website soon.