The actual advantages of OpenDocument

(this is only the final part of something I wrote in 2007. Please do read the first part to understand where the text below comes from!)

A highly structured, metadata rich, application independent XML file format like OpenDocument can finally offer two huge advantages to all computer users and to Society as a whole. The first is complete interoperability among many software applications, regardless of their user interface, license or development model. It is worth noting that this capability is not limited to office productivity software, but will be usable and useful with a much wider range of products. Being XML, OpenDocument files can be generated on the fly, analyzed or indexed automatically by any number of independent server-side applications.


The other really important thing that OpenDocument makes possible, on a large scale, for the first time is reliable long term archiving, without any loss of information, of digital office documents. This is something which is not possible with standards like PDF or RTF. The former is enough only when the only thing which is necessary to preserve is the original appearance of a digital document: spreadsheet formulas and history changes, for example, would be lost when converting to PDF. As far as RTF goes, it still belongs to Microsoft, that can change it (or its license) without notice or permission; it cannot be processed and analyzed automatically as efficiently as XML based formats like ODF and it is not suitable for presentations and spreadsheets.

It is therefore necessary to raise the awareness everywhere, from ordinary citizens to system administrators and policy makers, that these issues do exist and must be faced before they start to become a serious problem. The conclusion of this action would be to require by law that all the OpenDocument files stored or exchanged with public Administrations, libraries and so on are completely open and entirely accessible, regardless of the software application which created them. Luckily, this has already started to happen in many countries (*). In October 2005 even the eGovernment services division (IDABC) of the European Commission confirmed that IDABC would start recommending OpenDocument to Member States after its ratification by ISO.


This is where any OO.o user can help: when you exchange digital office documents, require every time it is possible that the OpenDocument format is used.

SO THE REAL REASON TO USE OPENOFFICE IS that OpenDocument already is the default file format for OpenOffice.org (OO.o) version 2.0. But this is only meaningful if you avoid as much as possible, both to maintain complete ownership of your data and to spread awareness of these issues, to exchange files with others in proprietary, MS Office formats instead of OpenDocument. The most predictable objection to this is the fact that it is still very unrealistic to expect that other users have OpenOffice installed or that they install about 100 MB of software just to read the single attachment that we sent to them. Luckily, this situation is going to change very soon. We are finally very close to the moment when refusing to receive an OpenDocument file will be regarded as an act just as dumb and socially unacceptable as refusing to receive PDF files.


  • (*) the original text had in that point a link to http://opendocumentfellowship.org/government/precedent, which sadly isn’t online anymore
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