Open Document standards

Imagine a scenario a couple of years from now where our governments and commercial enterprises discover that 99% of their documents are stored in a proprietary format (Microsoft) and some serious legal or technical issue has arisen which threatens their long-term accessibility. Fortunately this scenario is now much less likely due to an important international standards initiative known as Open Document Format.


I only registered the importance of Open Document Format at a recent Open Source Software workshop however the problem of ensuring long-term access to computer-stored documents has been recognised for quite some time.

For example in 2002, Dr. Edgar David Villanueva Nuñes, a lawyer and Congressman of the Republic of Perú, asked the same question I mentioned above of Microsoft Peru in a detailed letter about free and permanent document access with proprietary formats.

ODF is more than word processing documents

According to wikipedia which has a long and detailed article on ODF, OpenDocument format, stands for the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications. (Oasis is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards)

ODF is an open document file format for saving and exchanging editable office documents such as text documents (including memos, reports, and books), spreadsheets, charts, and presentations and is based upon the XML-based file format originally created by

ODF Supporters

ODF has been implemented by multiple vendors, and can be implemented by any supplier (including proprietary software vendors as well as developers using the non-proprietary GNU GPL).

The standardization process included the developers of many office suites or related document systems, including Adobe, Corel, IBM, and Sun Microsystems.

A number of ‘document-using organizations’ were also involved in the standardization process including Boeing, Intel, National Archives of Australia, New York State Office of the Attorney General, Novell, Society of Biblical Literature and Sony.

The European Union has also adopted ODF.

Microsoft’s Position

Microsoft’s stance on ODF seems to be mildly supportive but raising some other issues along the way.

They have said that they will only support the OpenDocument format in its new versions of Office if there is customer demand. (See below for a petition organised by the Open Document Fellowship).

In addition they are questioning whether there should be just one standard for open documents, for example, Macworld report (Dec 15) in Microsoft: One open document standard good, two better Alan Yates, general manager, business strategy with Microsoft’s information worker group, as saying:

“Governments should be open to both [Open XML and OpenDocument] and whatever else is rolling down the street. ...OpenDocument and Open XML come from very different design points...In the future at some point there will be convergence, in the near term, the transition period from proprietary document formats to Open XML-based ones will be “messy and complex. Competition between standards we believe is a very good thing.”

Yates is referring to Open XML which is the format Microsoft is promoting for documents.

ODF Resources

An excellent source on ODF is the Open Document Fellowship a pro-ODF group of volunteers who have also published a detailed comparison between ODF and MS XML

The Fellowship have also developed a petition to ask Microsoft to support the OpenDocument format in MS Office which they are encouraging people to sign – currently just under 9,000 signatures covering 240,000 computers.

ODF Tools

In addition to the commericial tools and interfaces there is also a free lightweight ODF viewer called Visioo-Writer which allows you to read OpenDocument files (initially format only but plans to cover all the open file formats eventually ).

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