Open Document Formats: A Successful Transition?

Some Background

Years ago I wrote about my interest in switching away from proprietary binary blob formats (primarily things like Microsoft .doc, .xls & .ppt formats) and instead move to their more open alternatives (OpenDocument .odt, .ods & .odp and Office Open XML .docx, .xlsx & .pptx). The genesis for this drive was an article by Vincent Cerf where he was talking about the problems around reading these proprietary formats in the future, when the original vendors are either out of business or no longer interested in supporting them. By using a well defined and open standard instead we can not only preserve our data but we’ll also have more options and software choices available to us as well.

Where Are We Now?

OpenDocument is at version 1.2 with a 1.3 currently in the draft stage. It is supported by many office applications (including Microsoft Office) and has been adopted as the standard by many governments and organizations. Here are just some examples: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Serbia, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela as well as NATO and the European Union.

Office Open XML is currently standardized under ISO/IEC 29500:2008 and is the default file format for the Microsoft Office suite. As such it likely enjoys a much larger market share being the de facto file type for individuals and corporations who are using Microsoft Office.

Both formats are now very mature and stable and offer good feature sets and interoperability. However there are still application specific issues that may impact users. For instance as of this writing both Microsoft Office and LibreOffice applications still do not always represent the same document in the same way leading to formatting inconsistencies.

So How Did My Transition To Open Document Formats Go?

Personally I can’t remember the last time I chose to use any of the binary blob formats. Sure you occasionally come across them online or get them e-mailed to you but by and large the world has moved on. The Microsoft backed Office Open XML formats seem to be much more prevalent but that’s to be expected as the default file format for the most popular office suite in the world. Still I think it’s a win for everyone that we’ve been able to make such a large and mostly seamless transition to open document formats.

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