Open Document Formats
by Gregg Berkholtz
October 4, 2005
Massachusetts has finalized its decision to require that State offices store documents in the OpenDocument file Format (ODF) by January 1, 2007. Though ODF has it roots in the OpenOffice XML file format, other office applications such as kOffice, StarOffice, and Abiword now support ODF. Corel has also declared ODF support in WordPerfect "soon". The growing list of apps supporting ODF can be found here:
Microsoft Office users are part of a lesser-privileged crowd though. With Microsoft refusing to support ODF because, according to Microsoft "...OpenDocument is missing some important functionality..." Of-course without the specifics of such claims, one wonders the real motive behind them. Considering even if ODF were in-fact missing important functionality, Microsoft Office already supports formats with far less functionality, such as HTML, ASCII text, RTF, and soon, PDFs.
Industry experts suspect, by supporting a truly portable document standard, Microsoft fears loosing its monopoly on its most profitable product. Despite Microsoft's membership with OASIS (a standards body), and the EU TAC's encouragement for participation, Microsoft declined to to assist other OASIS members such as Adobe, Arbortext, Corel, IBM, and SUN in developing ODF, instead opting to focus on developing their own license-encumbered version. Despite Microsoft's self-imposed exclusion, ODF was approved as an unencumbered OASIS standard on May 1st, 2005.
ODF was certainly not developed in isolation, or for a specific industry, considering the following organizations were involved in its development:
- CSW Informatics
- Drake Certivo
- National Archive of Australia
- New York State Office of the Attorney General
- Society of Biblical Literature
Back to Massachusetts though; they are not asking anyone to remove software from their desktops. Instead, they plan to add software to approximately 50,000 computers which will allow users to store files in ODF, instead of Microsoft's proprietary format, even if Microsoft continues to deny support. Where does that leave your average Microsoft Office user though? How long will Massachusetts pay twice (Microsoft Office + the conversion tool + the combination's support overhead) for something they can get at far cheaper rates (WordPerfect Office, OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, etc...).
Why is ODF important?
Try to read office documents from 10 years ago, you'll often fail. For government and large organizations, this imposes serious data accessibility issues. Imagine you were in the middle of a property line dispute, or just trying to buy/sell a property manufactured 15+ years ago. Shouldn't you have the right to access those records? How much time did you want your already time-strapped IT department to spend trying to open that document?
Wikipedia has this to say about ODF: "... The standard was publicly developed by a variety of organizations, is publicly accessible, and can be implemented by anyone without restriction. The OpenDocument format is intended to provide an open alternative to proprietary document formats including the popular DOC, XLS, and PPT formats used by Microsoft Office, as well as Microsoft Office Open XML format (this latter format has various licensing requirements that prevent some competitors from using it). Organizations and individuals that store their data in an open format such as OpenDocument avoid being locked in to a single software vendor, leaving them free to switch software if their current vendor goes out of business, raises their prices, changes their software, or changes their licensing terms to something less favorable.
OpenDocument is the only standard for editable office documents that has been vetted by an independent recognized standards body, has been implemented by multiple vendors, and can be implemented by any supplier ..."
To give ODF a try - take a peek at the "rc" releases of OpenOffice.org, beta and final/production releases are due in the coming months.
More information is available here: