Wednesday Nov 05, 2008

ODF Toolkit Union

Another milestone on the Open Document journey was just announced. Sun and IBM are joining together to sponsor the new ODF Toolkit Union, a collaborative community to develop the tools software developers need to support ODF in their applications. The goal is to make it very easy for any application to embrace ODF and to do so with a collaboratively-developed codebase so that it's really easy to make interoperable documents.

There's a substantial initial code donation there from Sun, including an ODF DOM and a .Net ODF library, all licensed under the Apache License v2. There is also an ODF validator, to help developers check the documents they create are correctly constructed.

Hopefully this will catalyse participation by a very wide range of developers, and promote the spread of document creators and consumers that work smoothly together. If I can clarify things for any organisation wanting to join the Union, get in touch by e-mail (details at the foot of the page). And if you're at ApacheCon, come and find me today and ask.

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 Feb 19, 2007

ODF Plug-In Preview Available

I'm pleased to say that the OpenDocument plugin for MS Word 2003 is now available for preview.

This initial plug-in application will support the conversion of text documents (.doc/.odt) only and full support of spreadsheet and presentation documents will be available in the final version, expected in April. The converter is easy to setup and use, the conversion happens transparently and the additional memory footprint is minimal. Microsoft Word users now can have seamless two-way conversion of Microsoft Word's documents to and from ODF.

The download is being managed by SDLC and the experience is pretty ugly (lots of clicks, sorry), but persevere. Try clicking on the file name rather than using the Download Manager when you finally get there, you may well find as I did that it's easier. There are feedback instructions in the Readme file that comes with the plug-in.

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.

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