The Danish government will launch a four-month pilot program in September that will involve publishing documents in the OpenDocument Format (ODF), part of the country's broad endorsement of using open computing standards.
The program will start with Denmark's finance and science ministries and possibly others, said Adam Lebech, head of the IT governance division within the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
Denmark's decision follows Belgium, which mandated last week that its federal agencies must use software that can read ODF documents by September 2007.
Along with ODF, the Danish ministries will continue to publish documents using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), Microsoft's ".doc" format and PDF (portable document format) from Adobe Systems, Lebech said.
Denmark's parliament passed a motion earlier this month to encourage the use of open standards within the government, Lebech said. The motion applies to procuring new IT systems, he said.
The government has also published a catalog of standards with some recommendations, but has not stated a preference yet for a document format.
"We're taking a stand that says we want to look at each standard from a neutral viewpoint and see what are their merits to better implement Parliament's decision as best we can," Lebech said.
Government IT buyers can opt out of using open standards for cost or compatibility reasons, but have to provide a reason why. It's also not enough that a standard is simply "open," meaning that it is documented and implemented by vendors in products, but also widely used, Lebech said.
So far, ODF has a low take-up in Denmark. Microsoft's software is mostly used with government, and since 2003 most documents have been published using PDF per government guidance, Lebech said.
Standards for data formatting and transfer have underscored computing breakthroughs, such as the protocols that make Internet browsing possible on different types of computers and operating systems. A growing movement wants to see a uniform standard for office applications using documents and spreadsheets.
ODF, which was approved as an international standard in May, is an XML (Extensible Markup Language) file format that sprang from OpenOffice, a free, open-source office application suite. Supporters say ODF is appealing because it's not a proprietary standard that locks users into software from a specific vendor.
Office software has traditionally been an area dominated by Microsoft, which uses proprietary file formats. While ODF isn't widely used, Microsoft views it as a threat to its profitable, 400 million user base for its Office software.
The company has countered ODF by submitting its own specification, Open XML, for consideration as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization.
The market will determine whether Open XML or ODF -- or both -- thrive. Microsoft has said it won't include ODF support in its forthcoming Office 2007.
Microsoft, however, said it doesn't have any concerns over Denmark's program, as it makes information more available to the public, which is of interest to any government.
"We understand open-standard file formats are important, and we are standardizing Open XML to meet the needs of governments to provide long-term access to information," said Mark Lange, senior policy counsel for Microsoft in Europe.