Monday Oct 13, 2008

OpenOffice.org and archiving

At the ODF Workshop last week, a number of the delegates were asking about the right way to handle archiving of their documents. Obviously ODF offers a baseline file format that promises long-term readability and editability, but the question remains of how best to handle files. With the release of OpenOffice.org 3.0, there are now two alternatives, and we heard at the conference of a third alternative coming in the future from ODF.

  1. ODF plus PDF

    Most of the archivists I have spoken to have insisted that one should always keep the original document in its original format, regardless of other choices. The easiest option for archiving is to retain the original file, with an optional copy filtered to ODF if the original is not in ODF, and then accompany the file with a PDF image. Technology exists to automatically create all this.
  2. PDF Container

    OpenOffice.org includes extensive new PDF handling features, including PDF/A support, access to PDF's distribution and use controls and the ability to include the original ODF in a "container" inside a "hybrid PDF". This last feature offers a fine archiving alternative, where a single file is created but within it the original ODF is retained for future use.
  3. Read-Only ODF

    At the workshop, we heard from Jomar Silva on the future of ODF 1.2. One of the features he described was signed, read-only ODF, allowing the preservation of the document exactly as used (it's on slide 4).

Choosing which to use is obviously a decision for each archiving authority, but the richness of the new PDF support means that the options open to arhcivists just grew enormously.

Wednesday May 21, 2008

Microsoft Embraces ODF, At Last

Slipstreaming Gull

I was tidying in my office recently and found my attendee badge for the Open Source Convention held in Monterey in 2000. The big news that year (apart from the fact that the world didn't end) was that Sun, which had just bought a German company called Star Division, was releasing their flagship product StarOffice under an open source license and sponsoring a new open source community called OpenOffice.org. The t-shirts we all received just said "Freedom". We all had high hopes that simple but bold move, as well as giving all of us a great document suite, would begin to lubricate the market for document tools and get its corroded competitive gears turning again.

I'm now completely convinced that it worked. The widespread adoption of OpenOffice.org both on Windows (for which millions of copies of OO.o are downloaded each year) and on GNU/Linux (where it is distributed with almost every copy) was an early sign. The growth of OpenDocument format from a seed planted by OpenOffice.org to an independent plant nurtured by OASIS to a spreading young tree at ISO was another.

But today there are many senses in which we all in the OpenOffice.org community could be delighted at our influence on the world of software. The steady pressure has paid off. Not just because OpenOffice.org is better than ever at version 3.0 (now available in a native Mac version among others). But because we were accused of being derivative, yet it's now our innovation that is setting the pace.

Change of Heart?

I'm referring to the announcement Microsoft just made that they will be issuing a service pack for Office that adds native support for ODF. I've been repeatedly calling on them to support ODF like they do many other formats, and to do so in a way that makes it just another format that can be made the default. They've said they will as of SP2, and I warmly congratulate them on finally overcoming the NIH and FUD instincts. Way to go!

More than that, they also announced they will join the OASIS ODF TC and work to develop ODF. I've also been calling on them to do this, pretty much since the TC was formed right in front of them (they are board members at OASIS) in 2002. I'm not a member personally, but if I were I would want to warmly welcome them to the team as it enters the final straights towards completion of ODF 1.2 and submission to ISO.

Of course, I might also reflect on the fact they are finally doing exactly what Stephe Walli said they ought to do to kill ODF. But for now, it's huge, warm congratulations on giving your customers the freedom to leave and the confidence to stay - and a small British mutter of "about bloody time".

Monday Jan 21, 2008

Strategically Ignoring Customers

Interesting to see the Microsoft folks making a big deal out of the fact that companies are implementing OOXML features in their software products. I'd hesitate to join them being thrilled at IBM's new-found support for their strategy. Truth is, when there's a monopolist in the market it's impossible to ignore the consequences of even their worst ideas, let alone their good ones. Responding to the needs of locked-in customers who will find themselves using OOXML is a different deal to strategic support.

A much more crucial question, though, is why the folks at Microsoft are so surprised. If you know your customers have a requirement, surely you respond to it? The real question this situation brings to my mind is not "why are IBM implementing OOXML features". It's "why won't Microsoft implement support for ODF at least to the same level as RTF built-in to Office?" Given they have a number of very significant and visible customers demanding that support, it seems to me they are the ones with the explaining to do, not IBM, Google, OpenOffice.org or anyone else.

Wednesday Feb 07, 2007

Sun Announces ODF Plug-In for MS Office

Great news today. Sun has announced that it will make available a plug-in for Microsoft Office that adds seamless support for ISO/IEC 26300 OpenDocument format. It works by using a highly optimised build of OpenOffice.org as a conversion engine and then inserting code into Word that adds ODF as just another peer file format, so that users can open and save ODF files just they way they would expect to, the same way as RTF, Doc and any other file format. You can even set ODF as the default file format.

Since the conversion is done by the same ultra high quality code that's used in OpenOffice.org, the quality for the conversions is excellent. There will be a preview version available for download in a few weeks that works with Word 2003, and we'll have a full version (that also exposes support for Excel and Powerpoint to use ODF formats) in the spring.

In other words, we've done what Microsoft could and should have done in the first place instead of FUD-ing and fighting. We've used freely available open-source code to build seamless, intuitive support for ODF into MS Word. No unmaintainable XSLT. No funky, redundant additional menu items. No tortuous workflow designed to make users treat ODF as second class. No pre-requisite for the OOXML add-in to make it work. Just peer support for the industry-standard file format, using open source rather than building from scratch so the improvements that are made to OpenOffice.org lead to improvements in the plug in.

This means that users of accessibility devices don't have to be left behind by migrations to ODF. People with those (expensive) assentive aids are trapped on Office 2003 since the devices use reverse-engineered closed APIs. By adding seamless ODF support, they are able to be full peers in a working environment that is moving to OpenDocument. As the release says:

The Executive Department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently using the converter to meet the previously identified January, 2007 compliance date for the start of a phased migration to the ODF format. In addition to allowing the Commonwealth's existing Microsoft Office applications to read and write ODF text files, the converter permits the continued use of the state's chosen accessibility technologies to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Update: Erwin has some screen shots that shows how Word looks with the plug-in installed.

Tuesday Jan 23, 2007

ODF Tookit Project

I do sympathise with the view that Stephen has about having too much news in one week, but in the midst of all the excitement of the Intel announcement and Sun's return to profitability, the OpenOffice.org community made a very important announcement yesterday that I'd like to point out to you.

It announced the ODF Toolkit Project, a community with the goal of creating shared software that both OpenOffice.org and other communities and developers can use to create applications that create and consume OpenDocument Format. Having an open source implementation of a standard like the OASIS-derived ISO/IEC 26300 is important becuase it provides the basis for the much faster proliferation of compatible support for the standard. Having that code be common to multiple open source and commercial projects is also important - it makes the burden for us all less while making the value for us all more.

While other formats seek only to be fully implemented once, having architecture-neutral componentry that implements ODF in this way will be a key to format freedom. Just say no to software standards with no open source implementation - those aren't standards, they are time-to-market barriers by their inventors.

This is very much in the spirit of the concept Rob Weir of IBM articulated a while back, and I very much hope they and many others will join together to make the project successful - the folks who voted "+1" to start the project are setting a great example. Sun is committed to the project, and you can read more about that from Sun's Juergen Schmidt.

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Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.

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