Open standards for document formats have been in the news recently.
- Massachusetts Falls to OOXML as ITD Punts, ConsortiumInfo.org August 01 2007
- Microsoft’s Open Format Criticized In China. by Winter Casey, National Journal’s Technology Daily InternationalRoundup, August 8, 2007 [subscription required].
A very useful report from JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee, an independent advisory body in the UK that provides leadership in the innovative use of Information and Communications Technology to support education and research) helps sort out the issues and says there is "an urgent need for co-ordinated, strategically informed action over the next five years, if the higher education community is to facilitate a cost effective approach to the switch to XML-based office document formats." This is important for government information specialists as well, whether in higher education or not.
- XML-based Office Document Standards (TSW0702) by Walter Ditch, JISC, August 2007.
The tacit acceptance of proprietary office file formats as a way of achieving interoperability is becoming less acceptable. Government agencies, in particular, are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to provide easy access to electronic documents to all stakeholders, while not requiring them to purchase a particular software product in order to view or edit these documents. The requirement to provide long term availability and archiving of documents is also encouraging a move away from proprietary file formats. JISC and the wider HE/FE community, as part of the public sector, will be required to address these issues with respect to how they deal with the publication of electronic documents, and the internal/external transference of document files.
The drive to move to open file formats has been ongoing for several years, but as Microsoft, the market leader in office document formats, has arguably been slow to move from its proprietary, binary file formats, the net effect, for most people, has been the continued use of proprietary, de facto standards. However, due to pressure to move towards more open document file formats, Microsoft has implemented a staged introduction of XML-based formats for its Office suite. With the release of Office 2007, the transition has been formalised, and existing users who upgrade to Office 2007 will, essentially, be upgrading to a form of XML.
However, this has not been without considerable controversy, and recent developments related to XML-based office document standards have reached a watershed. This TechWatch report explains these issues and some of the standards involved. It proposes that although the UK higher and further education sector has, for a long time, understood the interoperability benefits of open standards, it has been slow to translate this into easily understandable guidelines for implementation at the level of everyday applications such as office document formats. As far as education is concerned, the use of modifiable office document formats has now reached a crucial stage. There is an urgent need for co-ordinated, strategically informed action over the next five years, if the higher education community is to facilitate a cost effective approach to the switch to XML-based office document formats.
The report itself is available in several formats including Open Office (OpenDocument) format. If you’ve never used it, you should try it! Check out this page on Wikiepedia for a list of tools for reading and using OpenDocument format. You can use stand alone applications on your Mac or PC, or web-based applications like Google Docs.
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