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The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is And Why You Should Care ~ by Daniel Carrera
Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 05:00 AM EST

I asked Daniel Carrera, an volunteer, if he'd please explain to us the OpenDocument format. How does a format get chosen? And is OpenDocument on the list when governments like the State of Massachusetts make up such lists of acceptable formats for governmental use? If not, what can be done to change that? He graciously agreed. Because we are all concerned about proprietary formats and standards, and more and more governments are adopting policies requiring open standards, it's a very important subject.

Daniel calls OpenDocument "our best chance to fight vendor lock-in associated with proprietary formats." It's currently being considered by the EU Commission as a candidate for an official format. Note that you can also download this article in various formats, including, naturally, OpenDocument, from links at the end of the article. In some browsers, you may need to Save As, instead of just clicking on the links.

Daniel Carrera is a mathematics PhD student at the University of Maryland, as well as an active volunteer. He serves in the OOo community council as the "community representative". Daniel also facilitates the OOoAuthors project, where most English documentation is developed. He will be speaking at the OOoRegiCon in San Diego on Feb 9, the day before and leading into the " Desktop Summit 2005", a conference about the present and future of open source and desktop Linux technologies being held in San Diego, CA February 9-11. He is speaking opening day on the subject, "INREACH, Building an Active Community."

The complete list of speakers is here, and I must say, it sounds like fun. Mitch Kapor and Doc Searls are two of the keynote speakers at the Desktop conference. Sun's Simon Phipps kicks off OOoRegicon, and I've heard he is an excellent speaker. You can find out more here. It's limited seating, and the page says the price goes up after February 5.


The Future is Open: What OpenDocument Is and Why You Should Care,
~ by Daniel Carrera

What Is OpenDocument?

Executive summary

Quiz: Complete the sentence,"OpenDocument is ..."

(a) An open, XML-based file format.
(b) An open standard, supported by the OASIS and ISO standards groups.
(c)The default file format for the upcoming 2.0 and KOffice 1.4.
(d) A top prospect for an official format for the European Commission.
(e) Our best chance to fight vendor lock-in associated with proprietary formats.
(f) All of the above.

The correct answer is (f) All of the above.


This article links to reports written over a period of several months. To make things easier to follow (in particular, the name of the format), I include an approximate timeline.

  1. creates an open file format called " 1.0 format."

  2. The European Union commissions Valoris to report on open file formats.

  3. The 1.0 format is submitted for OASIS standardization. KDE and Corel join the OASIS Technical Committee and expand the format to cover a wider range of applications.

  4. The new OASIS format is called "Open Office XML". and KOffice both commit to making the format their primary/native format.

  5. The Valoris report is published. Microsoft and Sun respond to it. The European Union TAC makes recommendations.

  6. The format is submitted for ISO standardization and changes its name to the OpenDocument format.

In order to avoid promoting an outdated name, I will always refer to the format as OpenDocument.

The European Union and the Valoris report

The key player here is the European Union's Telematics between Administrations Committee (TAC). The TAC hired the Valoris consulting group to explore the possibility of using Open Standards to create a more competitive marketplace.

The Valoris report was well researched and very thorough. They recommended the adoption of an open XML format backed by a recognized open standards group.

The Valoris report is a very detailed and most compelling document describing how open XML technologies are impacting government information systems and requirements policies.

It's difficult to summarize a 78-page document. I encourage you to read it yourself [PDF]. But over all, it is well-researched and rather encouraging of open source, OpenDocument, and EU hopes for an open marketplace.

The Valoris group closely monitored the development of the OpenDocument format, and by November 2004 every one of the concerns and issues they raised were directly addressed by OASIS TC. As a case in how governments and organizations go about setting information system requirements policy, the Valoris effort provides an unparalleled insight.

Selection criteria

For the report, Valoris compiled an exhaustive list of existing file formats. These were compared against a series of requirements. Only two formats performed well, and these were selected for further analysis.

Being familiar with these criteria is important for us. It teaches us what a government requires before it will adopt an open XML format. I divide these into three groups:

  1. Open: At this stage of analysis Valoris only looked for openness in the sense that a public, royalty-free specification is available. For example, PDF and MS XML both met this requirement.

  2. Non-binary: Binary formats get in the way of neutrality. A format that depends on Windows components will be hard to support on GNU/Linux and Mac OS.

  3. Cross-platform: An obvious requirement for neutrality.

Technical merit
  1. Preserve format fidelity: This refers to both presentation and structure. For many applications, format fidelity is an absolute imperative.

  2. Modifiable: This excludes formats like PDF.

  3. Support current word processor features: An open format is no use if it can't represent your data. This list included Unicode support, bi-directional (Hebrew), and scripting, among others. Abiword and KOffice failed this requirement.

  4. Support emerging requirements: Digital signatures, access rights, version control, etc. Almost every format failed this requirement.

Widely adopted

This sounds odd. Why is this important? Shouldn't we pick the best format regardless?

The answer is simple: Have you heard of the ODA? I didn't think so.

In the 80's Europe made an attempt to define an open standard format called Open Document Architecture (ODA). It received a lot of support from European institutions including the European Commission. It was also an ECMA standard and an ISO standard.

ODA failed miserably.

ODA had no backing from the industry. The format was complex, and the companies preferred to support more pragmatic standards such as SGML and RTF.

Conclusion: Industry support matters. This is why the W3C never accepts a standard unless it has at least one working implementation.

Note: "widely adopted" does not mean "dominant". It means that there is enough industry adoption to sustain the format. For example, OpenDocument meets this requirement. Unlike the ODA effort, OpenDocument enjoys the support of two office suites as well as major players like Sun, IBM, HP, Novell and even Adobe.


No format met all the criteria perfectly well. But two formats stood out above the rest:

  • OpenDocument - main failing: lacked some support for emerging requirements.
  • Microsoft XML - main failing: medium fidelity, unsure about cross-platform status.
OpenDocument vs MS XML

The only apparent advantage of MS XML over the OpenDocument format was the presence of custom-designed schemas.On the other hand, OpenDocument had several advantages:

  • More open: No legal constraints, and support from OASIS.
  • Reuse of existing open standards when possible (SVG, Dublin Core, MathML, etc).
  • Higher format fidelity.
  • Friendly to XSLT and other XML-based tools.

Reactions To The Report

Microsoft Responds to the Valoris Report

Microsoft's response [PDF] essentially comes down to trying to convince the reader that custom designed schemas are really really important. This isn't surprising since it seems to be the only card they could play.

Sun Responds to the Valoris Report

Sun's response [PDF] expresses several concerns about Microsoft's approach to XML. I recommend reading the full response for details, but here are a few:

  • MS XML doesn't cover all of MS Office (for example, it doesn't cover PowerPoint).

  • MS XML doesn't support some of the advanced MS Office features.

  • MS XML can contain binary objects that depend on MS Office and Windows (e.g. OLE and VBA) and those lack complete documentation.

  • MS did not commit to make future changes to MS XML available to the public, only the current one.

The EU TAC Makes Recommendations

After getting responses, the EU TAC wrote their final recommendations. Those too are very encouraging. They stood firm on the importance of file formats:

"...the public sector should avoid any format that does not safeguard equal opportunities to market actors to implement format-processing applications, especially where this might impose product selection on the side of citizens or businesses..."

Their response to Microsoft's argument on custom-defined schemas was interesting. Instead of arguing whether the feature is really valuable, they chose to challenge OASIS to add custom-defined schemas to the format to match Microsoft's argument. The TAC also had some suggestions for Microsoft, finding that the MS XML and MS XML Reference License were simply not open enough.

Recommendations for OASIS:

  • Add custom-defined schemas to the format.
  • Submit the format to ISO for a more official seal of approval.

Recommendations for Microsoft:

  • A public commitment to keeping future versions of MS XML public.
  • Submit the format to an international standards body of their choice.
  • Remove non-XML components from the format.

Recommendations for other industry players:

  • Participate in the OpenDocument standardization process to encourage wider industry consensus around the format.
  • Include filters to support both OASIS OpenDocument and MS XML.
  • Provide tools to help the public sector migrate its documents to XML formats.

Recommendations for the general public:

  • Provide your documents in multiple formats, or alternatively, in an open format with industry consensus and adoption.

Microsoft responds to the TAC recommendations

Microsoft's response [PDF] essentially comes down to:

  • They agree to publish future versions of MS XML under non-discriminatory terms.

  • They say they will "vigorously" work on documenting the non-XML elements of the format, though they disagree that they should exclude all non-XML elements. They claim that OpenDocument also has non-XML elements (such as images) but fail to point out that in OpenDocument those are in a separate directory and in MS XML they are embedded throughout the XML tags.

  • They also say that supporting various formats is important, but fail to say that they'll support OpenDocument.

  • They insist that their licensing scheme is just fine, and that "royalty-free licensing programs have a role to play alongside formal standards". Translation: No, they won't submit it to a standards body.

Sun responds to the TAC recommendations

Sun's response [PDF] reiterates the importance of formats that are truly open, in every sense. They like the idea of ISO support and are confident that the format will become an ISO standard.

IBM responds to the TAC recommendations

IBM's response [PDF] was also positive. There was a tiny bit that concerned me:

... we believe [that standard] technologies should be published without restriction (other than reasonable royalties for essential patents)...

Well, I don't really know much about this, so I'll let other people decide if the stuff in brackets is significant. But other than that, IBM informs the EU that:

  • They will join the the OASIS Technical Committee.
  • They already offer products (Workplace) that conform with OpenDocument.

This last bit isn't surprising, since Workplace is based on code, but it's a good reminder.

Where We Are, Where We Need To Go

The OpenDocument format is arguably the single most important step for the FOSS movement after software patents. It is unique in that:

  • It cuts right to the core of the fight: Vendor lock-in.

  • This is a battle we can win.

This Is a Battle We Can Win

The OpenDocument format is in a unique position because it has a real chance of succeeding:

  • Technical merit: With the inclusion of custom schemas, OpenDocument can meet and exceed every technical hurdle that can be thrown at it.

  • Adoption:, KOffice, IBM Workplace, StarOffice. OpenDocument is not a dream. It is a real format with enough support to present a real alternative. is cross platform, easy to download and install, and is preparing to ship version 2.0. Sun, IBM, HP, Red Hat, Novell,and even Adobe were able to announce full support of the EU open XML standards requirements based on the inclusion of components in their products and services. That both and KOffice are open source with open component frameworks enables the entire marketplace of vendors to easily comply if they choose to do so.

  • Open standard: OpenDocument is more than an open format, it is a open standard . That is, it is backed by standards groups, ISO and OASIS. It is not controlled by any company or product. Not by Sun or IBM. Not by or KDE. Is Microsoft willing to match that?

  • Pushing OpenDocument as a Standard : The European Union is pushing for a policy of open standards. So is the state of Massachusetts, USA. The time is right to push for OpenDocument as the standard for government documents. People are listening.

What OpenDocument Needs To Succeed

The Valoris report makes it clear that any open format that is to succeed as an official standard for government documents needs four things:

  • Technical merit: Most open formats that were evaluated did not make it to the final round because they lacked important features. Any technical shortcoming, no matter how theoretical, gives Microsoft a lobbying opportunity.

  • Adoption: No adoption, no success. Learn from ODA.

  • Open standard: Why is this so important? Why not just any open format like the old 1.0 format or KOffice? Because Microsoft would argue unfair treatment. Yes, I know, ha ha. But still, Microsoft could effectively lobby against any format controlled by one application supplier.

    This is why and KOffice are both switching to OpenDocument as their primary format (in versions 2.0 and 1.4 respectively).

  • The Fight for Open Standards, OpenDocument As a Standard: The fight for open standards will not be easy. It will take will power from politicians, and the public who elects them, to come through. Open XML technologies are the future of collaborative computing, but the proprietary efforts to compromise their implementations, or lock them up with insidious patents and restrictive licenses, continues.

What You Can Do To Help

Keep your focus on the four items above. Let's go through each and see what we need.

Technical merit


If you find a significant failing in the format, join the OASIS TC and participate. Or, you can follow the example of XML expert David Wheeler. Even though David is not a member of OASIS, he routinely participates in discussions and contributes to the specification through the public forum. The OASIS TC also maintains liaisons with other open XML efforts such as the OASIS UBL and the W3C XForms groups.

Then there is always the option of working through one of the many project groups to directly impact the specification. Examples of this include the Bibliography and DocBook groups who labored long and hard to prepare the specification to perfect the demands of the Library of Congress' very complex "MODS" schema.

  • Write filters for Abiword, Gnumeric, Sodipodi and Inkscape.

  • Promote applications which support OpenDocument.

  • Help at or KOffice.

Open standard


Pushing for OpenDocument
  • Help convince the EU and MA to support OpenDocument.

  • Write letters, lobby.

  • Inform people. Feel free to use this article to do so.

  • Become informed yourself.

    • Read the Valoris report and the documents listed here.

    • If you live near San Diego, California, go to the RegiCon on Feb 9 and hear Gary Edwards from OASIS talk about OpenDocument:

      The Shot Heard Round the World: How OASIS Open Document Changes Everything.

      Description of the talk: "Now two years in the making, the OASIS Open Document XML file format specification is making its mark. This session will discuss how the OASIS TC made dramatic enhancements to the file format specification to meet the next generation information system requirements of the European Union. Enhancements such as XForms, SVG, and SMiL were needed to meet the "custom-defined schema" requirement. Submission of the specification to ISO (the International Standards Organization) was another challenge met by the TC. This discussion will also cover the dynamics of Microsoft's arguments to the EU that MSXML file formats and licenses are "open enough". The EU held their ground though. The requirements for " Open Standards based Open XML file formats" are now in the EU purchase cycle. A fact which quickly led to the capitulation of Microsoft in mid November of 2004, when they agreed to comply with the requirements in future releases, as well as to work with Sun to provide OASIS/ISO file format filters as plugins for current MS Office applications. Since IBM's WorkPlace desktop environment is based on components, IBM, Adobe, and over a 150 other IBM affiliated information technology vendors were also able to announce compliance with the EU requirements in November. When open standards policies find their way into the purchase cycle, the marketplace becomes competitive in every way imaginable. More importantly though, open standards based policies enable computational consumers take ownership of both their information, and the information processes they depend on. And that changes everything."

    • Attend the above talk and provide a report for Groklaw.


Gary Edwards, from the OASIS TC, reviewed this article for technical accuracy. Jean Hollis Weber edited the final draft. Any errors or omissions are entirely my own.


Read the Valoris report, along with TAC recommendations and all responses.

This article is licensed under the same Creative Commons License as PJ's articles. Daniel Carrera can be reached at dcarrera at

You can download this article in OpenDocument format as well as 1.0 and PDF.


The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is And Why You Should Care ~ by Daniel Carrera | 129 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here please
Authored by: fudisbad on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 05:09 AM EST
----8< QUOTE >8----

Daniel Carrera can be reached at <blank>

----8< QUOTE >8----

Fill in the blank, please. (expect a scrambled email address in case of spam

See my bio for copyright details re: this post.
This subliminal message has been brought to you by Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off topic posts here, please
Authored by: fudisbad on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 05:12 AM EST
For current events, legal filings, 10-K's and CC10 rulings.

Please make links clickable.

See my bio for copyright details re: this post.
This subliminal message has been brought to you by Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

OpenDocument and compatibility
Authored by: fudisbad on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 05:19 AM EST
Please note that you can't open OpenDocuments with 1.0.* and
1.1.*. You just get a blank page.

The article does not cover this, though.

See my bio for copyright details re: this post.
This subliminal message has been brought to you by Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Custom schemas => incompatible extensions
Authored by: MathFox on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 06:00 AM EST
The ANSI said with the ASCII standard: an extension of this standard is a
violation of this standard. (or words with a similar meaning.) The prediction
became true, looking at the choice of top-bit-set character encodings.
What are the risks that custom schemas lead to multiple incompatible extensions
to the same base format and so destroy the idea of a "universal and
perpetual document interchange and storage format"? (I hear a certain
company say "We need custom schemas to compete!" and feel worried.)

When people start to comment on the form of the message, it is a sign that they
have problems to accept the truth of the message.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is And Why You Should Care ~ by Daniel Carrera
Authored by: eerde on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 06:07 AM EST
Great article !

One suggestion;
Can "OpenDocument vs Microsoft XML" be changed into "OpenDocument XML vs Microsoft XML".

Some people I've asked think that XML is owned by MS.

"Never a dull moment."

[ Reply to This | # ]

What OpenDocument Is Not
Authored by: tyche on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 07:10 AM EST
David (and PJ),

This was an excellent article, and appropriately timed. I think this goes directlly to the heart of the MA quest for a long lasting format that won't lock them in to any one product or group of products. I hope a copy is being forwarded to them.

I would also like to say that I am impressed with the work of OOo and Oasis in finding/crafting a format that could be used for such a wide range of uses: text, spreadsheet, and presentation. I've tried the latest OOo - 1.9.69, and though it still has a few rough spots, the format is not one of them. I can't wait until version 2 comes out.


"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."
Stephen Hawking

[ Reply to This | # ]

A twist in the tail?
Authored by: PeteS on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 07:47 AM EST
This is an excellent article - open standards and formats are important (there
have been a number of articles on 'Who does your data belong to?' but I am
unable to find the one I want - it specifically looked at MS products and the
fact that the data are locked in a patented format).

But for pure irony, the biggest twist would be this standard is adopted and
proprietary vendors (you know who I mean) are told that their products may not
be bought or used unless they support and retain the data in this standard. Oh,
what a reversal of roles.


Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity

[ Reply to This | # ]

"Emerging Requirements"?
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 08:10 AM EST

Support emerging requirements: Digital signatures, access rights, version control, etc. Almost every format failed this requirement.

When I first saw this, and the accompanying notice in the actual report,

This criterion extends the above one to those more advanced features, which we believe will be part of the future word processor tools:
  • Access rights
  • Copyright and Digital Rights Management,
I got kind of worried. But when I read the section containing the details, I saw no mention of any DRM, only digital signing and encryption, both of which are acceptable in my book.

Does anybody know more details about the TAC and/or Valoris position on DRM in this proposed document format?

[ Reply to This | # ]

We also need other open formats - Database files, etc... (apps need open formats as well)!
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 08:21 AM EST
Vendor lock-in is a big thing with proprietary software companies...

I know of some where the migration of data from accounting software programs to
another (even another proprietary acounting software application) where the cost
would be so much to do... that many just feel stuck in the loop of paying the
existing software developer's fees for support!

The cost to migrate sometimes outweighs the lesser cost to just bring in another
proprietary accounting product for use. If there were open formats for such
accouting software(s), and other databases, spread sheets, etc too, then the
customer isn't left stuck with a ugly situation any more. I know of one company
that had such and old patched system that I don't think that even their
application folks knew what code was written by who know what past employees!
So, the app developer, they never have rewritten it (I think that they were ever
afraid to go there), and instead they just kept trying to fix what they had
because that was cheaper for them to do vs an expensive and risky rewrite of the

Open data storage formats, etc are very much needed in the real world of
business. If your application developer goes out of business then it would be
nice to bring in another, plug em in, and be up an running by Monday.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is And Why You Should Care ~ by Daniel Carrera
Authored by: kenryan on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 09:42 AM EST
... we believe [that standard] technologies should be published without restriction (other than reasonable royalties for essential patents)...

I'm wondering if the patents IBM has in mind are among the 500 they opened up to opensource programs.

In any case inserting text about "reasonable royalties" for patents is probably reflexive for IBM...

(speaking only for myself, IANAL)

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is And Why You Should Care ~ by Daniel Carrera
Authored by: Mark_Edwards on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 10:04 AM EST
Looks like Microsoft want to be open too...

lets' hope their reputation prevents anyone considering to
use their "open format".

[ Reply to This | # ]

an example of problems with openoffice
Authored by: jig on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 11:33 AM EST

check out this link:

and search for "KimVette". she describes an issue she is having trying
o get openoffice developers to spend time working on performance rather than
features. i haven't experienced the issue ever, and i don't know how long p3
bugs languish on the bugreport, but the comment that work on performance isn't
going to be focused on till 2.0 is a little scary.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 11:36 AM EST
I had an encounter with a real estate agent. He refused to send me a contract
via email for me to peruse and change to my satisfaction. He claimed that it is
illegal for me to write a contract in arizona. He was smart enough to hand me
over to his boss before I went to another agency. It got me to thinking about
open standards, however. The last time I tried to open a microsoft document was
a while ago; months or maybe a couple of years ago. It worked, but it was slow
and buggy. As far as I know, even MS programs can store documents in other
formats.(PDF, TEXT) I think that in the future I am going to start demanding
documents in these formats and perhaps OpenDocument sometimes as long as it
doesn't make too much work for me.(Such as reformatting a long text document.)

The point is, I think that in cases where Free Software Advocates have a
choice of individuals or companies with whom to do business, asking for and/or
demanding open source formats can be a VERY effective way to spread the word
adn keep MS et. al. from further sucess at their embrace and extend games.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Thank you, Daniel Carrera...
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 12:13 PM EST
for what you and other volunteers do for the 'community'.

[ Reply to This | # ]

OOO - what would also be extremely useful:
Authored by: Darkelve on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 12:49 PM EST
is a 'viewer' that can 'view' OpenOffice documents (kind of like the Word and
Powerpoint viewers, maybe more powerful), so that -when I send someone an
attachment in SXW format, I can refer them to download this small piece of
software so they can actually read it (without downloading the whole OOO suite).

[ Reply to This | # ]

A vote of thanks
Authored by: PeteS on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 12:50 PM EST
To Daniel, not merely for offering this information, but who has answered many
questions here.

A shot heard round the world may be true, in a form few may envisage at this


Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity

[ Reply to This | # ]

My Bookshelf Is Full Of Dead Document Formats
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 01:41 PM EST
Standards are good, everyone has their own. If my old word processor app can't read/edit it, is it standard? Who do I blame when I cannot open a document?

In the Seventies, paper output was the exclusive target medium. VT-100, IBM-3270, Tektronix vector graphics, and Lear dumb terminals were common, and they could not display documents in anything approaching a visually appealing presentation. So, systems like troff/nroff, Tex/Metafont, and SGML ruled that era. In the late Seventies, Xerox Star Office presaged the next level in technology, products, and document formats.

In the Eighties, supporting multiple output media was practical due to frame buffers and bit mapped displays. Postscript led the technology charge. WYSIWYG became the marketing holy grail. Not to be outdone, many vendors decided that they too could create document standards for their word processors. Apple and WordPerfect proprietary standards stand out as good examples: Apple for the OpenDoc vision of a complete Bento embedded object style of living document, and WordPerfect for its practical living documents that would quickly reformat after each user edit (and allowed low level tweaking of the format codes by expert users). Adobe focused on embedded Postscript. Microsoft sold crap for software running on DOS.

In the Nineties, people still used the Seventies and Eighties technologies. The practical distinction is that Seventies technologies relied on user knowledge to directly edit the meta information in nroff, Tex, and the like. The Eighties technologies leverage WYSIWYG in the user interface. PDF and Postscript filled the high end and printer markets. Microsoft Office formats filled the middle market, killing off WordPerfect as a company.

In the Twenty First century, our planet suffers from a Tower of Babble situation. Everyone I know relies on import/export filters that may or may not work for their current document. The scenario described by wild eyed visionaries of the Sixties and Seventies appears to be playing out.... The core idea is that over the prehistory and history of mankind, people left archeological evidence of their existence; however, proprietary and incompatible document formats ensure that future peoples cannot decipher our Age. For example, the Rosetta stone provided three languages, and Microsoft alone has ten times that many formats over a mere twenty years. Greed and stupidity have doomed many societies. I expect better.

Today, the SGML of the Seventies is the mother of all markup languages, but it has not been practical for WYSIWYG. See, SGML was designed before WYSIWYG left PARC's labs, in order to save the world's information from obsolescence. However, HTML and XML are popular sublanguages of SGML, and there will be more in the future. In the future, any viable document standard needs to be modular and layered. At the bottom layer, Postscript shows how to support the three universal formats: bit mapped arrays with channels, vector drawings in layers, and formatted text with outline fonts. For tools, WordPerfect shows how to provide a WYSIWYG document editor that escapes into meta text editor on those rare but necessary occasions. At the middle layer, Adobe encapsulated Postscript provides valuable lessons. At the top layer, Apple Bento provides an object oriented example in layering and organizing living documents. The toughest nut to crack is live, layered (re)formatting (we all see this problem in action in our Web browsers).

The best open document standard is just what this world needs. The best document standard still eludes this world. The SGML sublanguages are the best bets for inclusion in standards, but the availability of world class tools will drive ultimate acceptance. SGML does not include everything the best document standard needs, though. Any omissions to such an ambitious standard will produce inordinately large problems.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Maybe the most important thing on Groklaw so far...
Authored by: tiger99 on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 02:24 PM EST
Groklaw continues to get better. This subject is of vital importance to us all, and Daniel's article is truly excellent. Standards matter, especially open standards that everyone can work to. For example, open standards can't be patented, or subverted by a Criminal Monopoly whose pathetic products we are all sick of.

Thanks, Daniel, and PJ.

I am really looking forward to OOo version 2!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: dmazzoni on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 03:00 PM EST
Can someone elaborate on what is specifically meant by "fidelity" in
context? Does this refer to the problem where saving a document on one
computer and opening it on another results in some minor differences?

[ Reply to This | # ]

I will make one point.
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 03:40 PM EST
Have you read the standard he said in a defeated voice.

About a 1000 pages to document a file format.

[ Reply to This | # ]

What is "Custom Scema" support... and why should we care?
Authored by: Daddio on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 07:10 PM EST
Hey am I the only one whos eyes glaze over when someone says

Custom Schema?

Can anybody explain what this is? Someone earlier made a reference to ASCII and
ANSI... but... for the rest of us...


Joshua A Clayton
~Salt Lake City UT

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God, no
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 30 2005 @ 08:52 PM EST
Inline images is stored in a separate directory in OpenDocument?

Oh my god. Another abomination of nature, of the kind that is Internet
Explorer's web-page saving feature.

I'm all for open standards, and up to the point of reading that particular
sentence I was thinking "this is all good".

Now I'm just thinking "DIE, OpenDocument, DIE!"
I hope it never takes off and we all just learn to live with MS XML.

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Bbzzzzz Wrong.
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, January 31 2005 @ 01:59 AM EST
Nice article, ignorant comment and great flame, Daniel. Though I have to say I
also cringed when I read that sentence.

It would have been more correct to say: "The document is a zip archive
where images and binary elements are stored in files in a subdirectory of the
archive, away from the content.xml file."

I hope ignorance like that never takes off and we can get on with the job of
information handling. If the poster got himself a zip program he could save
himself from IE's stupid images folder problem by doing exactly what
OpenDocument does.

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What is the status of the ISO approval?
Authored by: Felix_the_Mac on Monday, January 31 2005 @ 05:19 AM EST

I couldn't find anything at

Does OpenDocument have an ISO number yet?
When was it submitted?
When is it likely to be approved?

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  • Summer - Authored by: dcarrera on Monday, January 31 2005 @ 11:52 AM EST
One more thing for your todo list
Authored by: Jonathan Bryce on Monday, January 31 2005 @ 05:29 PM EST
A filter plugin for MS Office so that MS Office users can read and write in this

Without support for the largest office suite, it probably isn't going to go very

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The Future Is Open: What OpenDocument Is And Why You Should Care ~ by Daniel Carrera
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 07:47 AM EST
This is wonderful. I was thinking if Bill Gates knows that historians in the
future will not be able to say much about history form 1980 to 20xx because all
the important documents are electronic. They're protected by patents for xxx
years, propritetary software that runs/ran on machines that no longer exist and
won't run on new machines. How many files are on disks, tapes, cd's that can't
be read - it's our history that gone.

I think the law center is the most wonderful thing to happen so far this year.
It lets the public create FOSS and make things for all of us to see and use.

k king

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OpenDocument is critical in Financial Services...
Authored by: NicholasDonovan on Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 11:15 AM EST
Daniel is correct. Most of my clients are financial services companies. Due to
the heavy regulatory climate associated with most financial services and the
fact that there are numerous downstream systems that must pull data from these
XML files, using Microsoft is cost and functionally prohibitive.

When an XML style sheet has binary object references that are indigenous to only
one platform you must discount Microsoft usage for real enterprise use.

In fact if I had to purchase an office license or some similar restraint, the
cost of processing financial transactions would MORE THAN TRIPLE!

Typically financial services requires secure file transmission with REQ/ACK,
encoded in either FML or EDI (older systems). You can encode an EDI stylesheet
within an XML document which is also nice so getting that information is that
much easier.

After the file is requested, received and an acknowledgment sent, it is usually
sent to a Linux system running DB2 or Oracle. Before it is sent there however,
an application usually exists to strip certain data points and send them to the
data the database for processing.

The data is processed and then recombined, send to an IBM Z/OS Mainframe
(running Linux ironically enough) for record reconciliation.

This reconcilliated record is saved then sent back out to the midrange systems
(Linux machines running Oracle or DB2) processed for posting on the web.

This is the final article you see when you log in to your banks website to view
your statements.

The moral of the story? You really can't use Microsoft for this kind of
functionality. It requires 24/7 reliability, a secure non-virus prone OS, and
scalable processing durations.

OASIS documents are very easy to work with and they're tailor made for this


Not an Attorney.
Views expressed are my personal opinions and not necessarily those of my
employer or its affiliates.

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