Home » post » Why open formats are important for government information

Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Why open formats are important for government information

Have you ever tried to open a WordPerfect document when all you have is Microsoft Word? Or maybe you’ve received a Microsoft Works document and found that your version of Word won’t open it. If you’ve been around documents for a while, perhaps you’ve tried to open some of the spreadsheets that agencies distributed in Lotus format and found that you couldn’t open the files If so, you’ve experienced first-hand the problem that Aliya Sternstein describes in an article about the importance of open formats for government information:

One of the big technological battles going on now is between the truly open ODF format and Microsoft’s so-called open format, OOXML. Sternstein writes "Microsoft and its supporters maintain that having a choice between any and all open file formats would be advantageous for governments" but that "[g]iving U.S. agencies a choice in file formats could be bad for record-keeping because down the road, records might be saved in different, non-compatible formats or agencies might be held hostage by one company’s product line."

Will Rodger, public policy director with the Computer and Communications Industry Association, says:

"It is hugely ironic that promoters of OOXML and critics of ODF say you need to look at what their technologies do. As far as we can tell, the greatest impetus for the development of OOXML is to create technologies that perpetuate the proprietary lock-in [that] governments were trying to eliminate in the first place."

(See also:   Government Information in Legacy Formats: Scaling a Pilot Project to Enable Long-Term Access, by Gretchen Gano and Julie Linden, D-Lib Magazine (July/August 2007) Volume 13 Number 7/8, and a project a colleague of mine, Doug Tower, worked on several years ago, the UCSD GPO Data Migration Project and the page that describes some of the processing for that project, Processing and Quality Control. Also see: Microsoft vs. Open Formats.)

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.