UK government standardising on open file formats


By GovTechReview Staff
Tuesday, 04 February, 2014



The UK Government is moving to ensure document longevity and avoid cloud lock-in by forcing government departments to use standards including OpenDocument Format (ODF) and PDF/A for creating and exchanging official content.

The proposal was published in late January, with the Cabinet Office accepting submissions through 26 February.

Contemplation of the use of open formats is being considered because “citizens, businesses and delivery partners, such as charities and voluntary groups, need to be able to interact with government officials, sharing and editing documents,” the document states.

“Users must not have coasts imposed upon them due to the format in which editable government information is shared or requested.”

Although the proposal recognises the looming change to cloud-based services where file formats are less important – and calls browser-based editing “the preferred option for collaborating on published government information” – the proposal also notes that “documents formatted in office software are still prevalent amongst users of government information and the formats used by government should meet user needs.”

Specified requirements for the final format include support for Unicode 6.2; support for import of older formats; use of metadata; imports and exports to/from other applications; fonts and graphics that are reusable in other formats; and the creation of document templates.

The OpenDocument Format (ODF) v1.2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument is proposed as an acceptable open standard that meets all of those criteria, with CSV (Comma Separated Values) used as a standard format for spreadsheet data, plain text for unstructured information, and HTML4.01 or higher used for browser-based editable text.

ODF is an OASIS and ISO/IEC international standard that builds on the OpenOffice.org XML-based document format, and includes files with extensions such as .odt for word processing documents, .ods for spreadsheets, .odp for presentations, .odb for databases, .odg for graphics, and .odf for representing mathematical formulae.

OpenDocument files can also contain subsidiary folders compressed together using the .ZIP file compression format.

"Government services are being redesigned to make them more straightforward and easier to use by making them digital by default. This will diminish the use of traditional government document formatting even further as information is published directly on the web."

The avoidance of vendor lock-in is another key element of the UK government's initiative, which notes that “it must be possible for documents being created or worked on in a cloud environment to be exported in at least one of the editable document formats proposed.”

The government is also considering the best standard for viewing and presentation of documents, and has noted in a separate proposal that the PDF/A-1 and PDF/A-2 standards offer the best, standards-based options – and that PDF 1.7 should be used “where more rich functionality is needed.”

“As technology progresses, government's production of information in formats traditionally associated with documents will become less important for users,” the proposal advises.

“Government services are being redesigned to make them more straightforward and easier to use by making them digital by default. This will diminish the use of traditional government document formatting even further as information is published directly on the web. [But] documents should be accessible on different devices without loss of integrity. The information should not become spoiled.” – David Braue

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