Dutch open source vote could sideline Microsoft

The Dutch parliament is set to discuss a plan to mandate use of the Open Document Format at government agencies, a move which observers have said could infuriate Microsoft.

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The Dutch parliament is set to discuss a plan to mandate use of the Open Document Format at government agencies, a move which observers have said could infuriate Microsoft.

The proposal, to be heard on Wednesday, is part of a wider plan to increase the sustainability of information and innovation, while lowering costs through the reuse of data. Implementing the plan is expected to cost €8.45m (£6.08m) between 2008 and 2011.

Microsoft Netherlands has engaged in fierce lobbying against the plan, which it says could disqualify its products, ranging from Office 12 to .Net, even though Microsoft claimed its software offered good value for money.

The software manufacturer also backs its own OpenXML format, which is pending approval as an open standard before the International Organisation for Standardisation. The company argued that the current definition is too narrow, specifically by mandating ODF rather than open standards in general.

"I wonder if you would be allowed to use standards like PDF, Wifi, GSM, XML, Bluetooth and mp3 within the government or if you would be bound to a comply or explain as well," said Theo Rinsema, general manager of Microsoft Netherlands.

The OpenDoc Society, an organisation that promotes the adoption of open standards and backer of ODF, said Microsoft was crying wolf. "The choice in favour of ODF doesn't exclude anybody. I fail to see why authorities cannot use Microsoft Office," said Ruud Vriens, CEO at RedNose and a founding member of the OpenDoc Society.

He pointed to plugins such as one developed by Sun Microsystems that enable the use of ODF in Office 12. Microsoft and Novell are working on another plug-in. "There is also no reason not to use .Net with this plan, since ODF-compatibility has been ensured with software.”

"This plan is not about Microsoft, it's about ensuring the perpetual availability of data without any obstacles. Currently there are issues with OpenXML, they aren't an official ISO-standard yet. And the way they tried to get the specification certified is questionable at least," charged Vriens.

But he added: “We would like to encourage Microsoft to join our ranks by becoming a participating member of our society. That would enable us to work with them to ensure an innovative and durable future so they can remain open for business."

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