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Software Government Politics

South Africa Adopts ODF as a Government Standard 107

Posted by Zonk
from the few-down-few-dozen-to-go dept.
ais523 writes "As reported by Tectonic, South Africa's new Mininimum Interoperability Standards (pdf) for Information Systems in government (MIOS) explain the new rules for which data formats will be used by the government; according to that document, all people working for the South African government must be able to read OpenDocument Format documents by March, and the government aims to use one of its three approved document formats (UTF-8 or ASCII plain text, CSV, or ODF) for all its published documents by the end of 2008. A definition of 'open standard' is also included that appears to rule out OOXML at present (requiring 'multiple implementations', among other things that may also rule it out)."
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South Africa Adopts ODF as a Government Standard

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  • Ironic (Score:2, Funny)

    by youthoftoday (975074)
    that the link is a PDF?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      It's not the end 2008 yet. Apparently their standards haven't changed. Still, I would've expected them to put up a version in odf format.
    • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Interesting)

      by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @07:56PM (#21121755) Journal
      What is with the PDF allergy exhibited by a number of slashdotters?

      It works fine in both xpdf and gs. In fact I've never encountered a PDF which doesn't display in either of those. Further more, as well as high-quality Free (tm) readers, there are also plenty of high quality Free tools for generating PDFs.

      Seeing as the readers are small and lightweight, PDF is a better choice for final documents than ODF.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Gabest (852807)
        Beautiful on the outside, ugly in the inside. Please think of the programmers!
      • Re:Ironic (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @08:28PM (#21122151) Homepage

        Although PDFs are great when you view them in Xpdf or Evince or the Mac OS X viewer thing, the common PDF viewer for Windows - Adobe Acrobat Reader - is a bloated piece of crap that makes Firefox freeze while it loads as a browser plugin. I'd guess that most of the PDF haters are Windows users, or users who install Acrobat Reader out of habit rather than using the native viewer that their Unixish system provides.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Or you could choose to not load it inside your browser.
          Ohh and it's very modular, preventing it from loading crap plugins when you don't need javascript and what not in your pdfs will speed it up to almost zippy.
        • Re:Ironic (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ortholattice (175065) on Friday October 26, 2007 @01:12AM (#21124803)

          Although PDFs are great when you view them in Xpdf or Evince or the Mac OS X viewer thing, the common PDF viewer for Windows - Adobe Acrobat Reader - is a bloated piece of crap that makes Firefox freeze while it loads as a browser plugin.

          So ODFs would be better for viewing in Firefox? Seems to me they would be even slower, while waiting for OpenOffice to load.

          Anyway, for faster speed you can use the 2MB Foxit [foxitsoftware.com] PDF reader. I don't think an ODF reader would be easy to do in that size/speed, if possible at all. (But who knows - 15 years ago word processors fit on a floppy or two, and a reader would be a subset of its functionality.)

          • by Anonymous Coward

            So ODFs would be better for viewing in Firefox? Seems to me they would be even slower, while waiting for OpenOffice to load.

            Actually, viewing ODF in Firefox [mozilla.org] is quite fast. No need for any suite to load. Besides, the are other suites beyond OpenOffice. Koffice and Workplace are two readily available examples.

          • Anyway, for faster speed you can use the 2MB Foxit PDF reader. I don't think an ODF reader would be easy to do in that size/speed, if possible at all. (But who knows - 15 years ago word processors fit on a floppy or two, and a reader would be a subset of its functionality.)

            That's what I usually recommend to Windows users who complain about PDFs, but the existence of software that sucks less doesn't change the fact that the "normal" software is horrible - and thus gives the format a bad rep.

      • by sdhoigt (1095451)
        > Seeing as the readers are small and lightweight, PDF is a better choice for final documents than ODF.

        Great, maybe they'll consider that. And for the other 99.9% of documents ODF is the choice.
      • i got a pdf recently which was displayed incorrectly in every product i tried which wasn't from adobe. i tried opening it up and looking at the code but unfortunately i lack the knowledge to see what was wrong.
      • I'm allergic to PDF because it takes me out of the integrated browsing environment I was in, simple as that. The browser's functions don't work any more.

        If I'm on the Web I expect HTML web pages, not flash/PDF/whatever else the author decides is best for me.
        • I agree with you which is why when I click a link to a pdf, it opens in Kpdf in about 2 seconds.

          The whole 'document inside a browser' concept irritated me from the beginning.
      • The funny comment's irony is not because of some 'allergy'.
        The irony is because South Africa didn't say PDF is a standard, yet they use it.
      • by david.given (6740)

        What is with the PDF allergy exhibited by a number of slashdotters?

        Because they're really annoying to read, that's why. Trying to read a document that's formatted to be printed on paper on a screen that's a different shape is an exercise in frustration --- you get the choice of seeing the entire page (with the text too small to read) or seeing only part of a page (which means you lose out on all the benefits of using a page-centric format).

        Seeing as the readers are small and lightweight, PDF is a better

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          That right there is what pretty much makes PDF the worst choice for putting documents online. It's great for something that needs to be printed out. I used it all the time in University when I brought assignments in to be printed out. Even changing versions of MS Word for different printers could mess up a document. However, as far as actually reading the document goes, I'd much rather have something that's more suited to displaying on a computer screen, like HTML+CSS.
          • by Steve001 (955086)

            CastrTroy wrote:

            That right there is what pretty much makes PDF the worst choice for putting documents online. It's great for something that needs to be printed out. I used it all the time in University when I brought assignments in to be printed out. Even changing versions of MS Word for different printers could mess up a document. However, as far as actually reading the document goes, I'd much rather have something that's more suited to displaying on a computer screen, like HTML+CSS.

            In my opinion, it

      • I think it comes from two sources:
        • Many people have a misunderstanding that PDF is completely proprietary. Although the standards is controlled by Adobe, it's still pretty open and anyone can write their own implementation.
        • Many people assume that PDFs can only be written with Adobe Acrobat and can only be viewed with Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Reader. Since both of those programs are kind of bloated and slow, people assume that PDF is bloated and slow. And since Adobe Acrobat is expensive, people as
    • I wouldn't call it ironic, but it does raise the question of what they want to do with (largely) non-editable, finished documents. Surely PDF is more suitable than ODF for such purposes. They should either add PDF to their list of approved formats. If PDF is not free enough for them, they should have published this press release in ODF or plain text, in order to start on the right foot.
      • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Informative)

        by ChameleonDave (1041178) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @08:11PM (#21121949) Homepage

        OK, I've just RTFA.

        This is all relevant only for "Working Office Document formats". For final presentation, they're using PDF. For web pages, they're using HTML 4 or XHTML with testing in Firefox 2 and IE6, plus later versions. What is it with this tradition of inaccurate summaries on Slashdot?

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Whoa, whoa - you read TFA? I'm pretty sure that means you're not allowed to comment.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by SnowZero (92219)
          Hm, will the laws be in a Wiki now?
        • What is it with this tradition of inaccurate summaries on Slashdot?

          It's been hashed over a lot, but basically there are limited submissions for a particular article to choose from, and when one is chosen, it's based on time submitted and completeness more than accuracy.

          Then, there are the cynics who believe that flamebait/inaccurate summaries == more comments/pageviews == more income.

          I personally like them because they provide a way to easily determine whether someone bothered to RTFA as the discussion g

      • by rtb61 (674572)
        Why not PDF, one word, interactivity. Any document standard has to reflect the most common uses, a document, a spreadsheet and a data base. For a government in it's interactions with business and the public means that data is not only going out but it is coming in. So the only thing left for a document standard is vector based drawings.

        PDF as a government document standard would be, quite simply put, mind bogglingly stupid and completely pointless.

        • Are you joking?

          The government is using plain text and ODF for documents that need to be edited (whether they are incoming or outgoing). They are using PDF for final documents that ought not to be edited, such as proclamations of laws.

          • by rtb61 (674572)
            Non-editable PDFs since when. Are you really saying you can not reproduce an identical edited PDF, and this on a tech forum, seriously. The only copies of the law that should be un-editable are those housed with in the government and of legal government record. To claim distributed PDFs as some sort of secure method of distributing of laws is just so laughable, it is impossible to believe you are serious.

            No, it is for all the other government documents. Documents sent out for tender, documents relating to

            • Non-editable PDFs since when.

              PDFs have always been intended to be a read-only, final-document format. We geeks have tools to edit PDFs, but hardly anyone else does. Even a document carved in stone could be photographed, then OCRed and edited in a word processor. That doesn't stop it being the proverbial ultimate final document.

              The only copies of the law that should be un-editable are those housed with in the government and of legal government record.

              No, it is obvious to everyone but you that finished government documents such as laws ought to be distributed to the public in a form that presents them as uneditable (PDF, paper booklet, brass plaque, TV br

    • Re:Ironic (Score:4, Insightful)

      by corsec67 (627446) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @08:22PM (#21122091) Homepage Journal
      Except that PDF is an open standard, and a very good presentation format.

      It only sucks if you want to edit the document.
      • by Fëanáro (130986)
        it also sucks if you want to have any choice in viewing or printing the document, for example a larger font size or a different paper format, since that would require repagination.

        • by vakuona (788200)
          Well, that is why he said it is a good presentation format. Because what you are describing is probably best achieved by republishing in PDF with the correct fonts and all.

          A PDF basically guarantees that what you see is what you get. Well, better than almost any other document format at least. No, image formats do not count.
    • On page 19 of the MIOS pdf document is a footnote that says Adobe has the full specification of pdf version 1.7 open but it doesn't fully work in the current acroread for linux.

      I have seen some software like kghostview having a hard time while others like kpdf or xpdf do great opening those same documents.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ianare (1132971)
      FTFA :

      He explained, however, that there was "space for pragmatism" in deciding on what formats to be used. He gave PDF as an example, which was not technically an open standard but did not have comparable open equivalents. He said that when faced with a choice of standards, the most open would be chosen.

      (emphasis mine) Sounds good to me, PDF is widely readable, and ODF is not the best format for distribution when you don't want the document to be altered. It would have been ironic if it was a .doc file.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by weighn (578357)

      that the link is a PDF?
      Opened the Document Properties in the perverse hope of seeing "Creator: Adobe InDesign". Alas, created with OO.org 2.2. Damn!
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by z4pp4 (923705)
      I'm currently doing some IT contract work for a South African Government department, and can see some flaws in this:

      - The average user is not very educated in IT. If something *minor* changes, you will get a helpdesk call.
      - The level of IT skills at this point in time is low. The major complement of IT staff at departments are contractors. Very little skills transfer is taking place to permanent staff, and they just mostly sit around and do nothing.
      - Implementing change management will be an issue. The chan
      • You are an astroturf. Please mod correctly.

        Sean
        • by z4pp4 (923705)

          You are an astroturf. Please mod correctly.
          Please do look at my comment history before making such statements.
          Like any IT admin, I don't give a flying f for whichever vendor, fanboi, holy wars etc. that goes on, just so long it works. As far as astroturfing is concerned, I can see the FUD factor implied here, but it is not intended.
          Compare the fanboi movement in Slashdot: mostly Google, Apple, Linux, .... see a pattern?
  • by NemoinSpace (1118137) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @07:53PM (#21121717) Homepage Journal

    ...all people working for the South African government must be able to read OpenDocument Format documents by March,
    You think it would be hard enough to get computers to read odf, now they are mandating people do it?
    Won't someone think of the children!
    • ... especially at a time when most "people working for the South African government" seem to be having trouble reading, period.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @08:08PM (#21121905) Journal
    In a remarkable development, all the seven islands of the Seven Sister's Atoll, seceded from their common government and declared themselves independent sovereign nations. UN approved their nationhood in an emergency session. All of them, (population 7, 21, 3, 23, 7, 5, and 0.5 respectively) have immediately applied for the P membership of ISO. The population count of less than 1 raised a few eyebrows. It turned out to be the National Geographic photographer who camps there every summer. It is widely speculated in slashdot that all of the will soon vote to approve OOXML.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DavidD_CA (750156)
      .. and in related news, many special interest groups are eager to register their new .SS domain names.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Siener (139990)
      Your point is well made. Why the hell would anyone care about the state of OSS in South Africa [wikipedia.org]? The next thing you know Slashdot will probably start covering that other South African loser [wikipedia.org] and his rediculous project [wikipedia.org].
    • Good point... (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Except of course that South Africa has a population of more than 45 million people. That's OK, I forgive your ignorance, after all you have that severe map shortage [youtube.com] going on in the USA.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lord Ender (156273)
      South Africa is larger (by population and by geography) than any country in Europe. It is also a Western country--English speaking, democratic, capital markets... it's not an Atoll at all (unless you consider France to be an Atoll, too).
  • From the article:

    Bob Jolliffe of the department of science and technology, who was part of the working group that compiled the document, ... was optimistic about the MIOS document's implementation, saying that it now cleared the playing field for the adoption of government's free and open source software policy.
    Apparently there's a long-term strategy to move to FLOSS. The article also mentions that all internal documents will be ODF by 2009. Wow.
    • OMW. It just awesome to see somebody I actually personally know featured on slashdot. Anyway, as a South African its awesome to see we can at least get something right :) And yes there is a major push to move to FLOSS in the South African government in general.
    • by Siener (139990)

      Apparently there's a long-term strategy to move to FLOSS

      OSS has a big following in SA for many reasons. One of the obvious benefits is that OpenOffice [translate.org.za] and many other open source programs are available in all 11 official languages [wikipedia.org] - something that the likes of MS can't offer.

      The celebrity of Mark Shuttleworth in SA and the success of Ubuntu no doubt played its part as well.

  • by rHBa (976986) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @08:17PM (#21122027)
    ...and they beat us to open standards!!!
    • by e9th (652576)
      Worse yet, they beat us to Theo! [wikipedia.org]
    • The South Africans have us beat on the freedom front, too. Not only does their constitution, as I understand it, guarantee equality regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and language ... not bad for a country that just over a decade ago was a world leader in racial oppression. On top of that, their wines blow away any comparably priced US produced wine. Check out a South African pinotage if you like reds.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Have you read China's constitution? Try it sometime. Then compare that document to the reality of living in the actual country.

        South Africa may indeed be beating the US in terms of freedom, but that's not something you can tell by looking at a piece of paper. No matter which document format it uses. :)

        Hell, look at the US constitution some time and compare.
    • But the rugby wasn't open, by any standards!

    • by Builder (103701)
      Oh well... you still have the cricket... right ?
  • Have I missed it or does Google still not support saving/exporting documents in ODF?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by FutureDomain (1073116)
      You must have missed it. Google Docs supports ODF for documents and spreadsheets, but not presentations (only .ppt for now). In fact, they've supported it for a while (I exported a document to ODF back in May).
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Mike Morgan (9565) *
        Yep, missed it. But the "Save as OpenDocument" is only available from the "Docs Home" page under "More actions". It's not available when you're editing the document from the File menu.

        Thanks!
  • In the foreword to the document, department of public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, says that "this updated version of MIOS contains an explicit definition of open standards as well as the inclusion of the ISO Open Document Format".

    This guy better watch out for Steve "The Chair" Ballmer.
    • by gnomeza (649598)

      This guy better watch out for Steve "The Chair" Ballmer.
      Do you know any guys called Geraldine [anc.org.za]?

      But, thanks, I lolled anyway...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ozmanjusri (601766)
      This guy better watch out for Steve "The Chair" Ballmer.

      Actually, as soon as Ballmer heard, he despatched one of Microsoft's Special Ops "negotiators" in a private jet to Pretoria.

      Fortunately for the Africans, the "negotiator" bailed out halfway across the South Atlantic ocean. In a statement released later he said;

      The flight had been going well until I dozed off for a minute or two, then woke to see blue screens on the panel in front of me. By the time I realised it was just the sky, I had my chute on and was halfway out the escape hatch...

    • by Jyms (598745)
      Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi is a woman, and she can give as good as she gets. She has a reputation as being a tough cookie.
  • This is all nice, but we're running out of chairs now!
  • For whatever you want to fault it, doesn't OOXML have at least a couple of rough non-MS implementations (Novell [novell.com], Corel [corel.com], Thinkfree [thinkfree.com])?
    • key word you said there is "rough", which doesn't really cut it. documents must be standardized and show up exactly the same from program to program in order to be an efficient standard. plus there's the whole litigation thing where some of microsofts IP may be non-implementable from the OOXML specs.
    • by pembo13 (770295)
      What exactly is your point?
  • I'm confused... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by martin_henry (1032656)
    What version of Openoffice are they using? I'm using version 2.3 and it knows that "minininum" is not a word...
  • by sn00ker (172521) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @10:42PM (#21123551) Homepage
    A few people have mentioned that OOXML has been "implemented" by a few applications. Completely? Compliant with all umpteen-thousand pages of the spec? No, didn't think so.
    The thing to consider is that SA requires

    the intellectual rights required to implement the standard (eg essential patent claims) are irrevocably available, without royalties attached
    That could be a problem when trying to get the various old-versions-of-Word things to work, since the "intellectual rights" to "FuckShitUpLikeWord97" and "BreakCrapLikeWord95" are a) inextricably tied into the spec and b) absolutely not going to be forthcoming from MS for anyone who wants to actually produce a complete, fully-compliant implementation. Anyone think they even have those things defined in writing? I don't!

    I'd say this one is game, set, and match to ODF. OOXML just cannot fulfill the access requirements if anyone tries to actually implement it in its entirety, and since it sounds like SA is on a total OSS kick one can probably safely assume that they will be demanding multiple implementations that comply down to every last comma, semi-colon and full-stop.

    • As of now the OOXML standard has been implemented by zero applications. Should microsoft fail to bribe their way into fast track status, a technical committee will be making radical changes to the standard. But even without that, Word 2007 has several showstopping bugs to claim standards compliance should the current draft be made into a standard.

      Sean
    • I'm curious. Besides Star/Open Office (same app really, just marketed under two names.. one with some extras), what app suite implements the entire ODF spec? None that I know of.

      In order for an app to implement the entire format, it must have every feature the format supports. Since ODF, by definition, supports the entire OpenOffice feature set, that means that any app that doesn't support every OpenOffice feature cannot implement the entire spec.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sorry for posting AC. This is huge. South Africa is a populous country.

    However, does anyone have links to their analyses? One criticism in Massachusetts was that the Massachusetts CIO Office did not sufficiently evaluate all of the factors relevant to a transition to ODF. The Massachusetts comptroller issued a scathing audit listing the many items which their CIO should have looked at first, and failed to.

    I have read the linked South African document and it is filled with the same types of conclusory st
  • by DavidD_CA (750156)
    A footnote specifically says that they are researching the possibility of adding Microsoft's XPS to the document standards.

    The document also does not forbid the use of Microsoft products for the authoring of these documents, only the file format. If Microsoft were to create an upgrade/plugin save as ODF, then they could still use Office. Even without, they can save files as HTML, TXT, or CSV.

  • It has already been a number of years since a government advisory panel in South Africa produced a survey and guidelines for open-source adoption. It was previously covered on Slashdot [slashdot.org].

    Unfortunately the original link has gone stale; here is one that works [naci.org.za]. The first version of the NACI document makes for interesting reading for the lay person.

    Good to see ever-increasing open thinking there!

    Salani kahle.

  • by Peer (137534)
    Maybe the government wants to protect their software-industry just as the US does with Microsoft?
    • No - you can use Microsoft Office. You can use Windows. You can use any damn software you want. This is not about software - it's about document formats and open standards.

      It's only because Microsoft have been so successful in binding their software to their formats, that when someone chooses another format, people think it's about the software!

      • by Peer (137534)
        It may not be about software to you, but to Microsoft it's about Office. They are clearly planning to use OOXML as a tool to keep their grip on the office-software market. They are pushing OOXML like their life depends on it (and to a certain extent it does). Using OOXML as a standard will be a big advantage to Microsoft, since only their software properly supports it. Using ODF will make switching to Ubuntu an easier option for South Africa.

        The SA government probably cares more about Ubuntu than about MS.
        • I agree that getting OOXML recognised as an international standard is a key strategic objective for Microsoft, as many public authorities are concerned about the long-term preservation and accessibility of public information. Open document standards (if they are actually implementable) are essential here.

          I guess using ODF rather than the current MS Office formats would make using Ubuntu easier right now. However, if OOXML is ratified as a standard (and is actually implementable by anyone other than Micros
  • CSV? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Bee1zebub (1161221)
    While UTF8 raw text and ODF are both sensible formats, CSV seems like a poor choice for data owing to its horrible escaping conventions and subtly inconsistent implementations. Surely a better format would be a pipe separated DSV, which is a much cleaner format.
  • ...Miss Teen South Carolina seem like a bit of a chump now doesn't it, eh?
  • by dominux (731134) on Friday October 26, 2007 @06:29AM (#21126393) Homepage
    I see more and more documents being passed as .odt files (well I am an IBM business partner so not totally typical) it is much more reasonable to expect the recipient to use one of many free ODF compliant products or they might have Notes 8 with the productivity editors than it is for someone to send a .docx file and expect the recipient to pay to upgrade to read and work with the file.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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