Road To Open Document Standards, The

Interoperability, Competition Policy and Antitrust and Standards

Article Snapshot

Author(s)

Per Pinstrup-Andersen

Source

IDC Nordic, October 2006

Summary

This paper looks at a dispute over standards between open source and traditional software interests.

Policy Relevance

Software supported by traditional firms can be "open" and support many functions and products. Private firms prefer it to that supported by open source software. But a standard seen as being controlled by one firm appeals less to the public sector.

Main Points

  • Many observers call for “open” standards, so that products from several firms work together (interoperability). Competition is sustainable if users are not subject to the power of one firm.

  • Experts disagree about what “open” means. Most agree it means that no one can stop use of the standard by exerting intellectual property (IP) rights:
    • Open source software advocates argue that IP rights must be licensed for free. Note: “open source” and “open standards” are not the same thing.
    • Standard practice is for IP owners to agree to license rights to all comers on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms (RAND).

  • Software document standards determine how word processing programs, spreadsheets, and other systems open, edit, and save documents. Two open standards compete:
    • Open Document Format (ODF) is supported by Sun Microsystems and others through OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards). Strengths: Approved by ISO. Weakness: Offers fewer features.
    • Open XML is supported by Microsoft, Novell and other firms through Ecma. Strengths include full compatibility with Microsoft Office products.

  • Adoption of standards in Nordic countries is driven by the private, not the public sector. Open XML is seen by Nordic firms as supporting more interoperability than ODF.

  • Open ODF ranks highest in the public sector. For Open XML to appeal to the public sector in Nordic countries, it must show it is not controlled by Microsoft.

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