After the publication of the Open Government Directive, which imposes quite tight deadlines on federal agencies to publish more data, I have been tracking what different vendors are doing to help their clients comply. An excellent and very timely example comes from Microsoft. On their web site, one can find a wealth of information, including a Microsoft Word template of an Open Government Plan (the document that agencies must publish by 7 April 2010, describing how they will address transparency, participation and collaboration in their activities) as well as a Microsoft Project template for the plan itself.
This is all good stuff, but I could not resist noticing an interesting detail. At page 10 of the Word template there is a table with open data formats, listing XML, XLS, CSV, KML, KMZ, GeoRSS and ODS. One could argue that not all these are really “open”, but there are various definition of makes a format open, and the one in the directive says “An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information”.
However ODS (which is the OpenOffice format for spreadsheets) is treated as a son of a lesser God, since the text that Microsoft uses in the template is the following:
“At this time, [Agency] is reviewing allowing ODS as a standard output. However, since the ODS standard undergoing a specification, we have placed the format under review. ODS is not currently used on any Recovery sites.”
Isn’t this great? I thought ODS – as part of the Open Document Format – was a standard (ISO/IEC 26300) and the fact that it is not used for any current “recovery” site does not imply it should not and it will not. After years and millions of dollars spent to please mostly government clients by getting Office Open XML approved as an international open standard and although Office 2007 can save and open files in Open Document Format , Microsoft could not resist making its point about ODS not being mainstream.
While this does not detract from the usefulness of Microsoft templates as a fair starting point for whomever is preparing an open government plan, it also shows that it is never easy to put business interests and competitive pressures aside. Which leads me back to my point about being careful when listening to vendors about government 2.0.