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OpenDocument

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Mar 09, 2010 04:54 PM
The OpenDocument format (ODF) is a format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word-processing documents. The OpenDocument format is supported by free software applications such as OpenOffice.org, AbiWord and KOffice.

What is OpenDocument?

Standard
OpenDocument is a free and open format, and an ISO standard. Anyone is free to write applications that support it, without fear of patent claims or licensing issues.
Accessible
The specification of OpenDocument has undergone an extensive accessibility review, and many of the components it is built on, such as Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language and Scalable Vector Graphics, have already gone through the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative processes.
Cross-platform
Free software supporting OpenDocument exists for every major operating system including GNU/Linux, *BSD, Windows and Mac OS X.
Future-proof
For archivists and others, it's critical that documents be stored in a way that can be read for years to come. This is not a problem with printed matter, but proprietary digital file formats have typically changed every few years.

What you can do

It is important that our representatives hear from voices in support of these moves, and it is important that we keep the issue in the public eye. No matter where you are in the world, you can check this page for related news, and information on how you can help.

Support for OpenDocument has been steadily increasing, but there are still ways you can make a significant difference in promoting its adoption:

Get OpenDocument

Download any of these free software applications to start using OpenDocument immediately...

Who opposes OpenDocument?

Proprietary software companies who believe they stand to lose from policies supporting OpenDocument have been loudly complaining about them. Hearings have been held to delay them, and legislative amendments have been introduced to quash them.

In particular, Microsoft has been arguing against OpenDocument and lobbying for their own format, Office Open XML (OOXML).

What's wrong with Office Open XML?

Microsoft is attempting to block an established, free and open format by heavily pushing one they have much more control over, and they're using all their lobbying power to try and fast track it through the standards process.

Unlike OpenDocument, which is well-supported and cross-platform, Microsoft's format is only supported by proprietary software from one vendor, and because it has been designed to implement every bug, glitch and historical feature from Microsoft's Office software, the specification to implement OOXML is over 6000 pages long, making it much harder for other software to implement the format.

Doesn't Microsoft software now support ODF?

More recently, Microsoft has added broken support for ODF to Microsoft Office. Open Malaysia and Family Holloway have more information on the problem. Microsoft has shown its true colors by working against the community, by trying to pretend they want to show support for a standard, whilst actively working to break ODF. To quote Slashdot: "Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 claims support for ODF, yet with hard work and careful thinking, they have successfully achieved technical compliance but zero interoperability!"

Who's using OpenDocument?

These are just a few of the dozens of places using OpenDocument.

Massachusetts
The Commonwealth had in September 2005, become the first state to formally endorse OpenDocument formats for its public records and, at the same time, reject Microsoft's proprietary XML format. While still permitting use of ODF, in 2007 Massachusetts unfortunately also amended its approved technical standards list to include Office Open XML.
Misiones, Argentina
In September 2007, the use of ODF became mandatory within the government. Around a million people live in Misiones, which is one of the 23 provinces of Argentina.
United Kingdom
The British Education Communication Technology Agency, BECTA, made a recommendation that "Any office application used by institutions must be able to be saved to (and so viewed by others) using a commonly agreed format that ensures an institution is not locked into using specific software." In addition, Bristol City Council is using the OpenDocument format across its 5000+ desktop computers.

See who else is using OpenDocument.

Encourage your friends to join the campaign


Here's a brief letter you can send to your friends and family. Please only contact people who know you personally. Spam hurts our efforts.

Send the email directly from your mail client! or copy and paste the letter below to your friends.

I'm writing today to ask you to support the Free Software Foundation's OpenDocument campaign (http://www.fsf.org/campaigns/opendocument/).

Don't you just hate receiving Word documents in email messages? Word attachments are annoying, but worse than that, they impede people from switching to free software. Maybe we can stop this practice with a simple collective effort. All we have to do is ask each person who sends us a Word file to reconsider that way of doing things.

Instead, we should encourage people to use OpenDocument! The OpenDocument format (ODF) is a format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word-processing documents. The OpenDocument format is supported by free software applications such as OpenOffice.org, AbiWord and KOffice.

Most computer users use Microsoft Word. That is unfortunate for them, since Word is proprietary software, denying its users the freedom to study, change, copy, and redistribute it. And because Microsoft changes the Word file format with each release, its users are locked into a system that compels them to buy each upgrade whether they want a change or not. They may even find, several years from now, that the Word documents they are writing this year can no longer be read with the version of Word they use then.

But it hurts us, too, when they assume we use Word and send us (or demand that we send them) documents in Word format. Some people publish or post documents in Word format. Some organizations will only accept files in Word format: I heard from someone that he was unable to apply for a job because resumes had to be Word files. Even governments sometimes impose Word format on the public, which is truly outrageous.

For us users of free operating systems, receiving Word documents is an inconvenience or an obstacle. But the worst impact of sending Word format is on people who might switch to free systems: they hesitate because they feel they must have Word available to read the Word files they receive. The practice of using the secret Word format for interchange impedes the growth of our community and the spread of freedom. While we notice the occasional annoyance of receiving a Word document, this steady and persistent harm to our community usually doesn't come to our attention. But it is happening all the time.

Many GNU users who receive Word documents try to find ways to handle them. You can manage to find the somewhat obfuscated ASCII text in the file by skimming through it. Free software today can read some Word documents, but not all—the format is secret and has not been entirely decoded. Even worse, Microsoft can change it at any time.

Worst of all, it has already done so. Microsoft Office 2007 uses by default a format based on the patented OOXML format. (This is the one that Microsoft got declared an “open standard” by political manipulation and packing standards committees.) The actual format is not entirely OOXML, and it is not entirely documented. Microsoft offers a gratis patent license for OOXML on terms which do not allow free implementations. We are thus beginning to receive Word files in a format that free programs are not even allowed to read.

When you receive a Word file, if you think of that as an isolated event, it is natural to try to cope by finding a way to read it. But as an instance of a pernicious systematic practice, it calls for a different approach. Managing to read the file is treating a symptom of an epidemic disease. What we really want to do is stop the disease from spreading. That means we must convince people not to send or post Word documents.

I therefore make a practice of responding to Word attachments with a polite message explaining why the practice of sending Word files is a bad thing, and asking the person to resend the material in a nonsecret format. This is a lot less work than trying to read the somewhat obfuscated ASCII text in the Word file. And I find that people usually understand the issue, and many say they will not send Word files to others any more.

If we all do this, we will have a much larger effect. People who disregard one polite request may change their practice when they receive multiple polite requests from various people. We may be able to give “don't send Word format” the status of netiquette, if we start systematically raising the issue with everyone who sends us Word files.

To make this effort efficient, you will probably want to develop a canned reply that you can quickly send each time it is necessary. The FSF has some on its website. You can use these replies verbatim if you like, or you can personalize them or write your own. By all means construct a reply that fits your ideas and your personality--if the replies are personal and not all alike, that will make the campaign more effective.

These replies are meant for individuals who send Word files. When you encounter an organization that imposes use of Word format, that calls for a different sort of reply; there you can raise issues of fairness that would not apply to an individual's actions.

Some recruiters ask for resumes in Word format. Amazingly, some recruiters do this even when looking for someone for a free software job. (Anyone using those recruiters for free software jobs is not likely to get a competent employee.) To help change this practice, you can put a link to the campaign into your resume, next to links to other formats of the resume. Anyone hunting for a Word version of the resume will probably read this.

This email talks about Word attachments, since they are by far the most common case. However, the same issues apply with other proprietary formats, such as PowerPoint and Excel. Please feel free to adapt the replies to cover those as well, if you wish.

With our numbers, simply by asking, we can make a difference.

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