Open Document Format Adoption

I have been watching the controversy about the Open Document Format (ODF) that has been going on in Massachusetts. Long story short with a glazing over of details, the state CIO had some research done and decided to go with ODF as the official document format. This format was chosen because it is open and can be implemented by anyone. This is in direct contrast to closed formats which cannot be implemented by anyone unless the owning company allows it. Several other legitimate office suites can or will support ODF. Microsoft Office, which is what Mass. is currently using, does not and has no plans to support ODF. As such, they are vehemently opposed to Mass. "excluding" them this way. In an amazing coincidence, other officials suddenly speak up and oppose the switch.

I have looked at some of the reasons why the CIO decided on the switch. To me, the most important reason they have to switch to an open format such as ODF is that anyone can implement it. Which means that if one company goes out of business, a slew of other companies can provide readers/editors for the format. It also means that companies would have to compete for the state contract based on the quality of their software. Further, it means that since no one company owns the format, if documents are put in this format, then no company can "hold the documents hostage" and demand higher prices.

Here is my question regarding this. If Mass. was using an office suite from a small company that does fairly well but also may not be around in 10 years instead of the behemoth monopolist it uses right now, would this even be an issue?


Anonymous said...

I would think it would depend on the contract with the "small company".

If it required full source code for each released version of the software AND for that software to be turned over to the state when the company terminates support of that software or a change of control of the company THEN perhaps it would be less of a problem.

This way, even if the company continues, but discontinues a product, the government would have access to the source to be able to contract with OTHER companies for support.

Anonymous said...

Being an open format, and "future proofing" that format, is not just a matter of being able to be implemented by anyone.

"Future proofing" requires in addition that the format can be implemented on any platform. The format must be written so as not to rely on features of one particular platform. If the format does rely on features that are exclusive to just one platform, then if the vendor of that platform goes out of business then documents in that format would become "orphaned" and unable to be read and manipulated any more.

OpenDocument (ODF) is an open and cross-platform format specification. It is able to be implemented by anyone for any platform.

Microsoft's specification for its alternative "open" format - Open XML, which is being considered by ECMA - contains the keyword "ActiveX" for example about 30 times. This means that applications for reading and manipulating Microsoft's format might be able to be written by anyone but said applications will be constrained to run only on the Windows platform.

If Microsoft ever go out of business, or they decide to abandon support for some interfaces within Windows (such as ActiveX) then there will be no ability to read Open XML documents any more. Open XML is most decidedly NOT "future proof".