Open Document Format

My mom called a couple days ago and said she read in the paper that Microsoft was going down the tubes. I didn't know about all that, so I thought I'd figure out what she meant. (Silly mom, even if you read it in the newspaper you can find it online in seconds and e-mail me a link. It works just as well. Oh wait, you'd have to dial into the Internet - nevermind. ;-) )

A writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press was covering the fact that Minnesota is considering using Open Document Format. It's really a simple but often overlooked issue. In 10 years when you need that Excel document of your finances from 2001 to open, will you be able to? How about in 50 years?

Right now, if you're using Office or Adobe Acrobat to distribute your documents, you only partially own the document. Anyone who wants to read the document needs to go to Microsoft or Adobe to gain the ability to look at it. And what happens if Microsoft or Adobe do not exist in 10 years? What about in 50 years? When thinking on a governmental records scale, digital documents sounds a bit scary and, right now, paper is sounding really good.

The answer that the state of Minnesota is considering and that some European countries have already put into effect is the Open Document Format (ODF). But what if, in 50 years, no one supports ODF either? Will the government have to make sure some company is making an ODF-compatible reader program?

And will Microsoft die? I'm not selling my stock yet. They do have a competing OpenXML format that has yet to be ratified by the standards bodies. But even so, the idea that they're pitching an open format is encouraging because they see their business would flounder in this day and age without an open format. They might not have everyone in the world hooked on Word because it's the only way to open their documents, but they'll still sell the most full-featured word processing software around.



Interesting you should post about this. We were actually reading a case analysis about this exact situation in my management information systems class last semester about another state encountering the same question.

Did you know that ODF files are simply zip files containing a bunch of xml files and associated media files? So by supporting ODF, your only true binary dependency is on a zip file extractor. :-P

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