November 01, 2002
Open digital information exchange in Governments

It's been in the air for a while: spurred by increasing frustration over Micros~1 dominance in the "Office" market, there is a trend toward enforcing a more open exchange of information; especially within and between government institutions, and last but not least in their communications with their "customers" - the People...

Today Norwegian law professor Olav Torvund (from the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law) and researcher Gisle Hannemyr announced that the Norwegian law of open information can be used to justify a move away from currently widely used formats Microsoft Word and Excel toward more open XML, HTML and PDF. Legally there are also implcations for long-term archiving (just look at NASA's problems for an idea of the problems facing historians in just 20 years' time...)

Currently there are multiple examples within the Norwegian government where information is tailored to Microsoft products (e.g. the national statistical research foundation has been known to publish statistics in Excel format, and a government extranet page has been so fine-tuned for Internet Explorer that alternative browsers are impossible to use)... Briefly summarized: not good neither for members of the general public (especially students not affording to buy Microsoft products) using other other Operating Systems or other "Office"-type packages nor for web-surfers using alternative browsers (this also poses accessibility issues!)

Norwegian Schools are already moving toward open source software, and so has the Government... in principle... but there is still a long way to go.

Best practices to learn from:

Over in the States, there is now an initiative to define an open, extensible XML framework for exchange of law-related information. Read more over at Windley's Enterprise Computing Weblog: XML for Justice.

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