A fresh wind in the sails for the Open Document Format?

06 July 2015

Author: Sachiko Muto

[UPDATE 10/07/2015 : the page for the 2015 edition of the ODF Plugfest is now live]

The Open Document Format (often abbreviated to ‘ODF’) is an XML-based file format for spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents developed as an Open Standard by OASIS. At OFE we have long been strong believers and loud advocates  of this format (see our ODF toolkit), and we are pleased to see that recent news have comforted us in our stance. In this blog post we take a look at some of these new developments, and why they matter.

Technical specification evolving to meet user needs

Since their initial release 10 years ago, substantial work has been put in within OASIS to improve and develop the technical specifications of ODF. Additional features have been added in to address accessibility concerns, add support for RDF-based metadata and for digital signatures, among other things. Each version has been standardised in ISO, and just a couple weeks ago ODF 1.2 was published as an ISO standard. This is great news, as it shows the dynamism and support of the technical community behind ODF, as well as their willingness to listen and adapt to requests from users.

Improving product support, and new implementations

The leading implementations of the standard have long been OpenOffice (from which it was originally developed), and its popular fork, LibreOffice. Nowadays, some of the bigger players have decided to step up their support for ODF. Microsoft recently added the ability to export documents in ODF in Office 365, and boasts improved compatibility with ODF 1.2 in its products. In a recent update, Google also added support for three main ODF file formats in its free cloud apps service.

More excitingly perhaps, completely new implementations of the standard are being developed and look extremely promising. One such example is WebODF, which uses web technologies to edit ODF documents directly in the browser, meaning automatic support on all platforms, including mobile. And talking about mobile, LibreOffice recently launched it viewer app for Android, with overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Growing adoption, particularly in the public sector

Last year the UK government decided to select ODF as the exclusive standard for sharing editable documents, a decision which we welcomed at the time. We have yet to see the implementation of this new policy across departments, which is likely to be a challenging, but rewarding task. The UK also hosted the last edition of the ODF Plugfest

But other countries in Europe are also stepping up their game. The Netherlands, where ODF is on the list of ‘comply or explain’ standard, have decided to contribute directly to the maintenance and development of the technical specifications, through the engagement of one its employees, Jos van den Oever, as the new chair of the OASIS technical committee. France is currently revising its National Interoperability Framework, and is proposing to recommend ODF 1.2 (and with TXT) exclusively for editable documents. We have yet to see if this will be confirmed in the final version of the text.

A lively community

Finally, the community around ODF has never been so rich and lively. This is best exemplified by the ODF Plugfests taking place each year, where users, application vendors and technical experts meet to discuss best ways to implement and further develop the standard. The next ODF Plugfest is set to take place on the 16th and 17th of September in The Hague. Keep an eye on this page for more information soon.