JUL
8
2006

Open Document Format marching on

Open document format is that new fileformat for Office suites, ISO certified and genuinely an open standard.
Its been busy in ODF land, since early may the ISO certification came through we have seen the market accept this standard in an amazing speed. Governments are not well known for moving fast, and yet we have this long list of successes.

Belgian government chooses OpenDocument, ODF in Denmark, Key India official endorses OpenDocument and naturally Massachusetts is still going strong. The ODF Alliance certainly is not sitting still either.

Oh, and this one is nice too; ODFReader: Firefox Add-on Released. How is that for support :)

This probably means that we got critical mass. Enough people take the idea seriously to start that snowball effect and get more people on board to fix problems and to continue getting new people to hop on the bandwagon. At this point I should probably state why this idea is better than any other. ODF is an open format where a lot of different companies and groups have collaborated to create a good fileformat usable across different suits. Its not perfect and its not complete, but thats not the reason why a government wants this solution so bad. The reason for that is that it allows anyone to fix those problems and it allows anyone to keep reading those files even 100 years in the future, guaranteed!

As we know the first office-suite to have a release out with support for OpenDocumentFormat was KOffice (1.4), and we continue to support it with a lot of new work being done in 2.0 that will just rock the world when it comes out. Next to KOffice there are a lot of other office suits that support ODF in various degrees. OpenOffice, naturally, but also the IBM Productivity Editors (part of Lotus Notes soon) which together already take up a big chunk of the market.

The biggest chunk of the office-market is taken up by Microsoft Office, though. Microsoft has various different 'standard' file formats. And their new release switches to another fileformat again. This creates a pretty big problem; it can divide the industry into 3 parts. The old-fileformat of MSOffice (which is where the most docs are saved in today), second is ODF and 3th is the new closed-format from MS.

With the goal being one fileformat that can be relied upon for many years to come, this is an unwanted fork in the road. Everyone looking ahead, with the idea of keeping documents readable into the future, will have to choose between MS-XML and ODF.

No longer! Microsoft has seen that its in everyones best interrest if MSOffice can work together with ODF based suites. Microsoft has issued a newsreport stating it has started a project on sourceforge to convert documents.

The result of this backing is not just one more company jumping on the bandwagon. Its eliminating the choice that everyone was forced to make between ODF and MSOffice. Since whatever you choose, the path to ODF is still there. This is a pretty significant backing of the format and critical comments from Microsoft on the format are more then welcome. Afterall, without bugreports the problems can't be fixed :-)

Now, I'm left with the idea that forcing MS to back an open format, despite the likely result of that significantly loosening its grip on the office market, is a feat that the whole industry has achieved. This is a clear use of the idea that the pen is stronger than the sword. If enough people choose a better solution even the nay-sayers will have to follow or be left behind. Hmm, globalism isn't so bad afterall, if you count on opensource :-)

Comments

It's worth noting that this sourceforge project does not in any way provide a complete ODF add-in for Office if you read the web page and download it.

As I suspected, and the way Microsoft usually goes about these things, is that it will enable people to open ODF documents and to convert ODF documents to Open XML. What it will not do is convert, or save, Open XML and prior Office formats to ODF. It's purely a one-way system.


By segedunum at Sat, 07/08/2006 - 23:07

You are right, its not a very elegant solution, or really a solution at all. In fact; there is a better 3rd party solution which plugs into the open and save dialogs directly (making this just one more format) that works better already.

But the idea that Microsoft backs ODF has a huge political value. Now there is no more (political) 'we' vs 'them' anymore. Policy makers can no longer state that the Format is bad because for some reasons they want MSOffice.

Simply speaking; KOffice, OpenOffice etc are not simply disqualified on superficial arguments when it comes to companies deciding policy. Where those talks tend to look at technology from a height of 10km and the technical competence is not looked at at that stage.
Just like Linux got into the server room and other not easily noted places first without people getting fired, this change in stance _allows_ that to happen for us too.


By Thomas Zander at Sun, 07/09/2006 - 07:50

MS called another way for extending vendor lock in as
"Interoperability by Design" (ODF->MSOpenXML converter requires buying MSO 2007).

To MS:
Oh guys, come on! This smeels rather bad. Interoperability? Where's MS Access file format specification we're waiting for since early 1990's? Or can you at least START to zero your memory after calling malloc()? This flaw not only can relveal sensitive user's data but also makes it damn hard to reverse engineer the .mdb file format.


By Jarosław Staniek at Mon, 07/10/2006 - 08:45