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Report from the Open Document workshop at SCALE, by Mathfox
Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 11:50 AM EST

The first day of the Southern California Linux Expo was dedicated to the Open Document Format. All of the speakers at the workshop stressed the importance of an Open Standard to achieve vendor-independence and create conditions where innovation and competition can flourish.

Peter Quinn, the former CIO of Massachusetts, opened the workshop with a summary of the events that surrounded the Massachusetts decision to standardize their document formats. The largest part of the story is familiar to the Groklaw readers, no need to repeat it here. He made it very clear that neither he (nor Massachusetts) were against Microsoft, but that he was just looking for what was best for the commonwealth.

The events in Massachusetts didn't happen in a vacuum. The "Open Standards Enterprise Technical Reference Model" is inspired by and based on Federal best practice recommendations. In the European Union there are EU-wide recommendations for Open Standards. One of the harder issues to achieve was sharing of software between states. When lawyers got involved, the process slowed significantly.

The presentation for Peter's talk, "The Policy, Planning and Pragmatic Reasons for the Massachusetts Move into Open," is available, with photos on; other talks will be posted on the Open Document Fellowship website shortly.

Douglas Heintzman (IBM) had a talk about "Unleashing information." He showed some of what could be done with interoperable components that speak and understand Open Document. One of the demonstrations was collaborative editing of the same document (over the network) in two different editors. Two people, one in Firefox and one in OO Writer were editing the same document in real time. In a similar way, calendaring information could be edited from within a spreadsheet view (an OO Calc browser component.)

This is largely made possible through the flexibility in the Open Document file formats that allow scripting of the objects (think sections, paragraphs) in the document. It is unknown what will come out of it -- thanks to the availability of Open Source code, every programmer has the possibility to experiment with the advanced features. IBM is in discussion with Sun over the conditions for release and distribution of the modifications they made to Open Office. IBM would love to take Open Office into innovative directions.

Gary Edwards spoke about the joys of interoperability, allowing programs from different vendors, running on different computers to work together. It makes "the desktop" an integral part of your information system. ODF also brings "searchability" to your documents. Xforms is a way to present database information to users; but it also allows for creation of "eBusiness" and "eGovernment" applications.

David Eisenberg showed some other techniques to extract information from Open Documents, with XML transformations and Perl and Python scripts. He also showed that it's possible to generate Open Documents from within a program (although that's somewhat harder). He's written a book (ISBN 1-4116-6832-4) about it.

[PJ: As it happens I just got the following message from Marbux: "OASIS OpenDocument Essentials, by David Eisenberg. This is a developer's bible. On paper for $20 from Lulu,, online (for free) in several formats at David Eisenberg's web site, I've spent some time with it, and I'm impressed. I understood way more than I expected to despite covering the highly technical stuff. David has a knack for explaining technical subjects." Marbux suggested we might do a book review, so if anyone feels qualified, and would like to do it, please email me.]

Susy Strubl from Sun discussed the reasons why governments, businesses and consumers can win from Open Standards; it's all about control: controlling your documents and controlling the destiny of your organization or yourself. "A connected world needs Open Standards for efficient work."

In the panel discussion several topics were raised. The speakers didn't expect commercial and proprietary software to vanish soon; but Open Document clearly poses problems to a commercial Office software developer. There were some tips for Open Source activists:

  • Make sure that what you do works.
  • Think about your presentation and presenting yourself.
  • Start with small successes and grow from there.


Report from the Open Document workshop at SCALE, by Mathfox | 73 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
OT here please
Authored by: Chris Lingard on Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 11:56 AM EST

Please post in HTML and put in those links, there are instructions at the end of the posting page. But if you cannot do this, post it anyway.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Corrections here please
Authored by: Chris Lingard on Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 12:03 PM EST

But neither PJ nor Mathfox ever make mistukes.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Now this is neat.
Authored by: WhiteFang on Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 12:29 PM EST

"Two people, one in Firefox and one in OO Writer were editing the same document in real time."

It would make collabrative novels extremely interesting to do. I know my mother would be interested in this type of writing.

DRM - Degrading, Repulsive, Meanspirited
'Nuff Said

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT-number of employees left
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 12:51 PM EST
After looking at their profile it seems that they only have 166 people left, when did this happen?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Report from the Open Document workshop at SCALE, by Mathfox
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 11:30 PM EST
After many frustrations with proprietary formats for my work, I switched to the
ODF format. it's given me the first chance to be sure that the format I'm using
will still be around if I come back to a document in a few years time.

I'm finding that the ODF formats are frankly great. There isn't a thing I need
that they don't have.

I'm seriously considering trying to get my university to drop their dependance
on microsoft office and adopt OO.o instead. Therefore I'm watching the MA events
with interest.

Not that I think it'll be an easy task. Just being cheaper isn't enough, they'll
need real data on benifits.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Offtopic: Patent Club Proposal
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, February 12 2006 @ 01:06 PM EST
I have a weird idea about patents but I have neither time capacity nor knowledge
to develop it further.

Iím suggesting to create the patent club.

Companies inside the patent club might sue other companies inside patent club.
But they cannot sue companies outside of the patent club.

The company might enter the patent club, in that case it become able to sue
other companies, but it will also become vulnerable to other companies with
patents. And company might leave the patent club, in that case it becomes immune
to patent suites, but it is also unable to sue someone.

There are numerous options for getting patents.

*Lenient*. Companies both inside patent club and outside the patent club might
get patents. To companies outside the patent club, they would be just a
worthless piece of paper unless sold to someone in the patent club.

*Strict*. Only companies inside patent club might get patent, and only companies
inside the patent club might do patent search (if it is that useful, why not
make it a privilege and even require money for it). If company exits patent
club, entire patent portfolio is invalidated.

By default company unless it has specified that it outside of patent club, it is
inside patent club (or other way around, it does not matter).

The patent club membership might be viral. If some subsidiary is inside the
patent club, entire company might be counted as it is in the patent club.

The patent club membership could be a paid privilege, and that payment could be
used to support a patent office (for example per patent tax). That way public
fund would be not spent on program that benefits only some companies.

This way there will be a choice for companies and open source groups if they
want to be part of the patent game. And it there will be a smooth way out of the
game for those who are tried of this.

If this idea becomes implemented, the worth of the game will be evaluated
economically. And it offers smooth way out of patent madness. The decision might
be made by companies one by one, rather than en masse decision as it is required

If patents are so good as they keep telling us now, there will be a lot of
members in the patent club and nothing will really change. Therefore patent
proponents should not oppose the proposal if they are honest. If patents are bad
for business, we soon see that only patent trolls are inside the patent club.

PS: I have not found a way to submit it to web site team ot PJ directly. So I'm
posting it as offtopic thread.

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF = Deja Vu for IBM and others.
Authored by: mattw on Sunday, February 12 2006 @ 05:56 PM EST
Not sure if this has been mentioned before but :
One of the demonstrations was collaborative editing of the same document (over the network) in two different editors. Two people, one in Firefox and one in OO Writer were editing the same document in real time. In a similar way, calendaring information could be edited from within a spreadsheet view (an OO Calc browser component.)
This must all feel like Deja Vu for IBM and Apple and a few others. They tried to build a system called OpenDoc once upon a time, which according to that Wikipedia entry was in response to Microsofts OLE II, tho the way I heard it was Apple came up with OpenDoc, and Microsoft built OLE out of spite. I'm biased tho. OpenDoc did all the same things tho, allowed you to open any document type in any OpenDoc compatible application. If you have an old Mac that can run System 7ish, you can even play with OpenDoc. Maybe this time, it's time will have come, and there will be much rejoicing.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Additional Notes Re: Open Document workshop at SCALE
Authored by: randall on Wednesday, February 15 2006 @ 12:26 PM EST

I won't repeat what Mathfox has already written; here are a few additional notes from SCALE ... First, a few notes from Peter Quinn's keynote that are not in the slides or mathfox's article:

Regarding revenue challenges - health care costs are increasing between 8-15% per year, and no way that tax revenue can keep up; health care costs "cannibalize" revenues.

Re "sustainability of COBOL" the point is that it has been used for a 30-year timeframe while other technologies have come and gone.

Re Massachusetts Software Council - those are the entrepreneurial companies in MA.

Re Government Open Code Collaborative - I have notes of Peter Q. mentioning, but when I look for it today, no such domain.

Re history being generated and lost - commented that more of the history of the Civil War is preserved, than that of the Iraq wars.

Peter Q. says that he knows Louis Gutierrez (new MA CIO) "very well".

Said that accessibility is important to all of us, even from a strictly self-interested perspective - as we take a future view, all of us will age. Mentioned a cost of US$1500/desktop for JAWS, and is hoping that Open Source can lower the price point to $500 for accessibility.

At some point in 2005, the U.S. Library of Congress said that all documents should be saved in an open format.

I took the opportunity to thank Peter Quinn in person, for looking out for the interests of the people, rather than the vested interests.

Regarding the searchability of documents, from Gary E.'s talk, mentioned by mathfox - more specifically, Gary E. envisions entering a query in Google, and getting results that are not merely links to relevant documents, but links to the relevant section, paragraph, or sentence of the document.

About 5 people raised their hands, when speaker Susy S. of Sun asked how many people in the audience were representatives of government agencies. The total audience numbered some 50 people, of whom some 20 stayed for the question-and-answer session.

Comments and questions from the audience during the panel discussion, indicate that the city of Garden Grove is deploying Open Source software, and the city of Los Angeles is open towards open source (though I am not aware that representatives of either were present).

I had the pleasure to meet Groklaw members mathfox, dcarrera, and red floyd.

I met a representative of a public utility, who reads Groklaw regularly; a law student at USC; a reporter/editor from ComputerWorld (article), and someone from tomshardware (have not yet seen an article there).

In the exhibit hall, the OpenDocument Foundation booth (with dcarrera as one of the representatives) had a demo with OpenOffice and KOffice displaying the same document side-by-side - thus showing multiple competing applications using the same data format.

Randall -

[ Reply to This | # ]

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