David A. Wheeler's Blog

Tue, 04 Oct 2011

Open Document Format 1.2 approved!

Hooray! Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF or OpenDocument) Version 1.2 has been approved as an OASIS Standard. Finally, the world has a standard vendor-independent format for storing and exchanging ordinary office documents (particularly word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations) that you can edit.

Historically, people have only been able to exchange these documents if they use the same program, locking users into specific vendor products. In short, users often don’t really own the documents they create; they are often beholden to the developers of their tools. This is especially nasty for government documents; all governments have to choose some product, and whatever product they use implicitly forces their citizens to use the same product (whether they want to or not). Over time these documents can no longer be read, as products are upgraded or people change products, so this is also a disaster for archiving. We can read the Magna Carta more easily than some documents saved 30 years ago. Heck, we can read Sumerian writings more easily than some documents saved 30 years ago, and that is a scary thing. ODF provides us the possibility of actually exchanging documents, and reading archives, regardless of what program was used to create them. In short, people now have real freedom when they create and exchange normal office documents — they are no longer locked into a particular supplier or version of program.

Rob Weir has some of the highlights of version 1.2, and he has also written an overview of ODF.

For me, the highlight is OpenFormula. Previous versions of the specification could exchange spreadsheets, but did not standardize the format of recalculated formulas. I led the subcommittee in the ODF Technical Committee to nail down exactly how to recalculate formulas. The result: We now have a real spec. My sincere thanks to the many who helped make this possible. Feel free to see my 2011-05-28 post about the success of OpenFormula.

I’m sure that there will continue to be refinements for years to come; that is normal for a standard. In some sense this is after the fact; like many good standards, it was developed through the cooperation of many of the implementors. It is already implemented, at least in part, in many places, and I expect even more completed implementations soon.

The key, though, is that users can finally own the documents they create. That is a major step forward, for all of us.

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