Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two formats [updated]

by Alex Brown 21. November 2012 10:41
Punch & Judy

Two pieces of recent news offer an interesting commentary on the continuing evolution of office document formats and applications.

In Germany, following last year’s pained presentation on its attempts to adopt ODF, the city of Freiburg, along with a number of other European public administrations, has been funding an open source project to improve OpenOffice’s support for the OOXML format — the goal being to advance the case that users can switch from MS Office suite to an open source alternative, confident in the ability to interoperate between the two. The project is bearing fruit, with its first results claiming to have fixed “three of five biggest OOXML support issues”.

The news is timely with – it seems – a vote imminent in Freiburg’s city council to decide whether to “end its floundering migration of OpenOffice and to stop using the Open Document Format” … it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

[Update 2012-11-21: It appears Freiburg has voted to abandon its plan to migrate to OpenOffice (and for them it seems this means ODF too)].

Meanwhile, in Portugal …

But ODF advocates need not despair. While in Freiburg it might seem that ODF is the boat anchor holding FOSS office suites back, a thousand miles away in Portugal the Portuguese Government has published a list that mandates a number of open standards to be adopted in the Portuguese public administration. ODF is there; OOXML is not. The only wrinkle is that the version of ODF specified is 1.1 — which, interestingly, is the very version of ODF that MS Office currently happens to support.

Double the fun?

This raises the intriguing possibility that in one part of Europe officials may be using FOSS office suites to work with OOXML documents, while elsewhere MS Office will be used to work with ODF documents. If nothing else, this kind of thing is likely to accelerate the demand from users for developers and standardizers to address the remaining areas where format interoperability remains less than clear-cut — but in this scenario I’d also have to say I’d feel sorry for the users – especially those working on more complex documents – where those “less than clear-cut” areas are likely to be all-too apparent …

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Note that everyone directly involved in the development of ISO standards is a volunteer or funded by outside sponsors. The editors, technical experts, etc., get none of this money. Of course, we must also consider the considerable expense of maintaining offices and executive staff in Geneva. Individual National Bodies are also permitted to sell ISO standards and this money is used to fund their own national standards activities, e.g., pay for offices and executive staff in their capital. But none of this money seems to flow down to the people who makes the standards.

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