One of the core topics of this blog -at least one of the main reasons it came to existence- was open standards: their benefits, their advantages, and their value as a fundamental component for digital innovation and ultimately software freedom. This is still the case of course, but today I will try to show how one open standard in particular, ODF, has failed in its approach until now and could very well make a remarkable comeback.
This is not to say that ODF is a bad idea or that it is not a good standard; it is all this and much more. However I have realized with the hindsight of several years since it became an official ISO standard that the expectations about its adoption and its development have been defined the wrong way. Hence the title of this post.
ODF - open document format - is an open, XML-based rich document format that has been adopted as the standard for exchanging information in documents (spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents), by many governments and other organisations (see, for example, here), including the UK Government. This is despite strong opposition by Microsoft; but I have seen Microsoft's proposed "open XML" standard and, frankly, it is huge and horrid (in the word of standards, these go together). If I remember correctly, the early draft I saw even incorporated recognition of early Excel leap-year bugs into the standard.
ODF is now a pukka ISO standard, maintained by OASIS, under the proud banner: "The future is interoperability".
My personal thoughts, below, are prompted by an ODF session at ApacheCon Core titled "Beyond OpenOffice: The State of the ODF Ecosystem" held by Louis Suárez-Potts (community strategist for Age of Peers, his own consultancy, and the Community Manager for OpenOffice.org, from 2000 to 2011), and attended by very few delegates - perhaps a sign of current level of interest in ODF within the Apache community. Nevertheless, and I am talking about the ODF standard here, not Apache Open Office (which is currently my office software of choice) or its Libre Office fork (which seems to be where the excitement, such as it is, is, for now), the standards battle, or one battle, has been won; we have a useful Open Document Format, standardised by a recognised and mature standards organisation, and even Microsoft Office supports it. That's good.
A free software advocate has created an editable version of the UK government’s Open Document Format manuals, the “ODF Guidance”. Making the texts available on the Github software development repository facilitates others to edit, update and translate the texts, explains Paolo Dongilli, uploaded the documents to Github on 28 October.
28 October 2015 - The Apache OpenOffice project is pleased to announce the immediate availability of OpenOffice 4.1.2. You can download it from the official website http://www.openoffice.org/download
Apache OpenOffice 4.1.2 brings stability fixes, bug fixes and enhancements. All users of Apache OpenOffice 4.1.1 or earlier are advised to upgrade.
The Open Document Format (ODF) is one such format. ODF was specified by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), an industry consortium which aims to produce standards for e-business.
Key players in OASIS include the tech giants Sun Microsystems (now part of the Oracle) and IBM. Sun has been one of the main drivers of the format as it grew out of the format used by its free OpenOffice application. In 2006 the Open Document Format was approved jointly by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) as an international standard for office software.
Sun promised not to enforce any of its patents against implementations using the OpenDocument standard, although there can be much uncertainty associated with patents.
There is a new version of OpenOffice on the way. The suite of productivity tools has a long and stories history, and the Apache Software Foundation is now the steward of it. According to an announcement, development of Apache OpenOffice 4.1.2 is almost complete and the release is coming shortly.
The new version is slated to bring better Microsoft Office interoperability (including Sharepoint compatibility), as well as multiple improvements to all individual applications, including Writer, Impress, Draw, Calc, and Base.
Five years ago today marked the fork of OpenOffice.org into LibreOffice and coincidentally the Apache Software Foundation put out news this weekend that a new version of OpenOffice is coming.
A new OpenOffice update, version 4.1.2, has been in preparation for a while. Born as a simple bugfix release, it became an occasion for some deep restructuring in the project: several processes have now been streamlined (and some are still in the works), new people are on board and infrastructure has been improved.
Now the wait is almost over, and we are approaching the final phases before the 4.1.2 release. But we still need help with some non-development tasks, like QA and final preparations (press release, release notes and their translation).
Technological evolution is famous for obsoleting wonders created just a few years before. Sometimes new developments moot the fiercest battles between competitors as well. That seemed to be the case last week, when Microsoft announced its Azure Cloud Switch (ACS), a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking built on…(wait for it)…Linux, the open source software assailed by the company’s prior CEO as a communist cancer.
It also saw the UK Cabinet Office announce its detailed plans for transitioning to the support of the OpenDocument Format (ODF), a document format that was just as fiercely opposed by Microsoft in the most hard-fought standards war in decades. But at the same time, the Cabinet Office announced its commitment to work towards making document formats as close to obsolete as possible.
The Standardisation Board of the Netherlands wants to make the use of the Open Document Format mandatory for Dutch public administrations. ODF is one of the required ICT standards in the Netherlands, following a policy dating from 2007. However, the document format is ignored by most. This should change, said Nico Westpalm van Hoorn, the chairman of the standards board, speaking on Tuesday at the ODF Plugfest in The Hague.