Governments take note: Open Document Format is updated and improved!

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 In an important development last week, Open Document Format (ODF) version 1.2 was adopted as an OASIS standard after four years of hard work. And it was approved with a strong 'yes' vote and no negative votes.

As IBM's Rob Weir observed in his blog, “When work first started on ODF 1.0, back in December, 2002, the idea of having an open standard for office documents was radical. Every word processor had its own format, and most formats were undocumented or had documentation available only under anti-competitive licenses.  ODF challenged that status quo and shook the palace walls of companies whose business models relied on ensuring that your documents were the source of their vendor lock-in.  In some places the walls crumbled.  Today having an open standard document format is considered to the norm.  We’re all open standards supporters now, at least in words.”

As governments and other enterprise customers look at how to avoid lock-in, the hard work put into this comprehensive standard is a reflection of a strong and global commitment to open standards and the enablement of document control.

It is especially noteworthy that ODF v1.2 includes a number of significant enhancements, most notably, as this story in PC world indicates, the newly built spreadsheet support. As Michael Leenars points out in the story, it reflects "a complete clean room implementation of the spreadsheet formula" as a response to the demand of these items that are “critical for business use."

 Hats off to the many, many contributors, vendors, users and community organizations that made this effort successful!

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Mark Bohannon | Mark Bohannon is Vice President of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs at Red Hat. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President, Public Policy and General Counsel at the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the principal U.S. trade association for the software and digital content industry.


As an adjunct to this, I encourage everyone with school-age kids to contact school boards and the like to encourage the school systems to require open formats for materials meant to be communicated to parents and students. It's rare a week goes by without one of my kids coming to me with a "Dad, this file won't open..." complaint--it's usually a .docx with undocumented weirdness embedded in it; last week it was something called a .pub file.

I've been working with some people--teachers and admin folks--in my local school district. They seem open to changing the way they store files, but most have never even considered that there's any option--they hit "Save" and what happens after that isn't their problem. It never crosses their minds that what they've just saved may be, to Linux and Mac households, about as useful as a clay tablet embossed with cuneiform.

Mostly what's needed is a little education in the ability even some Microsoft apps have of saving in .odt, .pdf, or some other open format--it doesn't cost the school systems a thing. I encourage y'all to ping your school boards to get the education going.

<em>it reflects "a complete clean room implementation of the spreadsheet formula" as a response to the demand of these items that are “critical for business use."</em>

<p>Sadly it is both syntactically and semantically different to the spreadsheet formula language businesses actually use, which is the one from Microsoft that's been built into Excel for 20 years or so. As a consequence, interoperability for existing documents is likely to be impossible. As a consequence, migration to ODF 1.2 will probably be ruled out as too costly by most businesses, who would need to rewrite every single macro in ever single document to reliably migrate.</p>

<p>A pure design lose by the people who designed it, who seem to have been more interested in "sticking one to Microsoft" than actually making the world a better place.</p>

Wow! What a fatalistic attitude that is. Show of hands. Who out there thinks the ODF developers should just throw in the towel and let Microsoft dictate ALL technology standards just because they've been around for 20 years or so?

He didn't say ALL technology standards, he's only concerned with the one for which non-compliance would stand in the way of widespread adoption of the overall format. And he's right, this will almost certainly do that.

In theory, the ODF devs could probably implement the more heavily-used XLS formula syntax as a "legacy" subset of the new stuff, but then again, he might be right about the "sticking one to Microsoft" part too.

(disclaimer, I've participated in the development of ODF 1.2)

Mm, let's not
- mix specifications and implementations
- spreadsheet formulas and macros

OpenFormula does take a page out of Excel's book (and for that matter: Quattro's, 1-2-3's etc). See also the non-normative notes in annotated (draft) version of the specification:

Yes, the syntax is different, and sometimes the semantics are different, but OpenFormula's goal was to create a reusable formula format, not to document an existing implementation (not even OOo)

And as always, standards and specifications themselves won't rule out interoperability issues. It depends on the actual implementations.

Will interoperability be totally impossible ? Of course not, for instance, the relatively small project gnumeric is doing a fine job supporting both ODF's OpenFormula and OOXML's formulas, as did the now largely defunct odf-ooxml converter project.

However, what OpenFormula does not define (and neither does the rest of ODF 1.2), is a macro language. ODF allows one to use/store macros, but does not specify the syntax/semantics.

And it is indeed a big problem when one has written a large amount of StarBasic and/or VBA and/or whatever-implementation-specific-language macros, since spreadsheet macros have indeed become business-critical applications.
Vendors/projects may thus decide to support the macro-language of their competitor(s), whether it is stored in a legacy format or ODF.

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