Open Document Format and Open Data Formats

Big guns in the software industry are massing behind OpenDocument as government customers show more interest in open-source alternatives to Microsoft’s desktop software.

Oh how those words (from a CNET/NYT article last week) danced across the screen to my delight! I have been waiting for, and wondering when(and even nudging in the case of the NYC Council) government purchasers were going to get hip to the benefits of open source software and open data formats in this county.

You have customers like Massachusetts asking for choice and the ability to play vendors off each other, and at the same time, you have vendors looking at an opportunity to compete on a Microsoft control point.” I followed this development a few months ago (can’t find the link)and hoped that it would open the door to open source government procurement policies, and it looks like it might be.

Governments spend a tremendous amount of money on software. As hardware costs have dropped precipitously, the lions share of costs associated with acquiring new technology is related to software licensing (and support of course). So it only makes sense for government purchasers to look towards open source software. While a linux based desktop operating system and desktop applications would probably be the best route for governments to go in in the long term, embracing the Open Document format is a great first step.

The OpenDocument standard has other benefits, as the article elaborates on, so I won’t here, but I will broaden the discussion to include other open standards, like those for government databases.

I love pointing to an article from from Consulting Times The Open Source Dilemma for Governments (which i can only seem to find using the wayback machine (which no links directly too!). As the author Tom Adelstein summarizes:

add all the separate naming schemes of local government databases together and you get 16,000 variations. Create a standard and it goes down to 2,000. Put those into categories of reusable components and you wind up with 300 database elements. That’s why they call it a standard. It allows disparate systems to work together. It starts to open the window of a manageable task when the interoperable elements number 300 instead of 16,000. (now that is a summary of some info from the DOJ, Global Justice XML Data Model

I think that Fen and AJ can attest to the fact that the California elections system is similarly awash in non standard database objects. That is way we are working on the Public Voter Data Interchange Format, and open standard for collection, storing and managing voter registration data.

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