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Vendor Neutral File Formats? 83

Posted by Cliff
from the no-more-lock-in dept.
timmyv asks: "I have recently been tasked with developing a corporate wide policy that will standardize all employee created documents on vendor neutral file formats. OASIS is good in theory, but I haven't been able to locate enough concrete examples of policies or implementation schemes that work at a corporate level. Does anyone work at a company where documents can only be saved as RTF, HTML, etc. or have any experience with this type of problem?"
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Vendor Neutral File Formats?

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  • RTF (Score:2, Informative)

    by Uber Banker (655221) on Friday December 31, 2004 @10:54AM (#11227983)
    Isn't vendor neutral.
  • OpenOffice (Score:3, Informative)

    by saden1 (581102) on Friday December 31, 2004 @10:55AM (#11227995)
    OpenOffice file format is a good start. The format is open standard. As governments around the world embrace it companies will ultimate flock to the format.
  • by TheRealJFM (671978) on Friday December 31, 2004 @11:25AM (#11228151) Homepage Journal
    well KOffice may be adopting this format (if it hasn't already), and StarOffice also uses it (I would consider SO a seperate project now, especially at version 2 of OO.o).

    also don't forget that it may be made an ISO standard [slashdot.org].

  • Re:PDF (Score:3, Informative)

    by topham (32406) on Friday December 31, 2004 @12:28PM (#11228605) Homepage
    Any standard application can print to PDF on a Mac. (running OS X). PDF is inherent to printing. (Very cool, means every program can use the built in viewer for print-preview and what the print-preview shows is what actually prints... unlike certain Microsoft applications under windows)

    The only issue with PDF is the tendancy to be one-way. But there are programs out there designed to convert PDF documents to other formats.

  • Re:PDF (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zzootnik (179922) on Friday December 31, 2004 @12:36PM (#11228659)
    Yep-For a large part, it Is a lock-in.
    My company is standardized (at least for production work) on PDF format, which everything can make. The problem is getting things back out or editing such documents...
    It seems that the only truly accurate interpreter is Adobe's Acrobat Software, but it 'just works' for the final output. Converting it to anything else useable doesn't seem to work vey well or reliable.
    Editing these things is a bit of a pain, but it can be done, and we do for a chunk of the production----> but this is definitely beyond the capabilities of any of the PHB's or the multitudes of Customer reps/etc, so the 90% paperwork and other miscellaneous office/corporate documentation never sees PDF format. A lot of that gets done in MS Word/Excel. Oh well... I find myself idly wondering/dreading what the next version of Acrobat is introducing...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 31, 2004 @02:30PM (#11229323)
    You think RTF is "vendor neutral"? It's simply a 7-bit-safe version of Word's native format.
    That it is not.

    RTF does contain, in theory, sufficient control words to describe everything that Word 2000 can do, but it's hardly a direct translation and things get lost a lot. Furthermore, RTF contains a few control words that Microsoft didn't put there: such as \collapsed (added by NeXT to describe paragraphs that had been hidden by the user).

    There are lots of third-party tools that read and write RTF, but the same is true of Word native. Either way, you run up against all the formatting issues you always get when you're importing and exporting unstructured formats.
    There is a huge difference. RTF is a formally published, open specification [microsoft.com] and Microsoft openly encourages [microsoft.com] third-party implementations. It's been stable for 5 years now. Word .doc files are a closed spec that Microsoft jealously guards and changes often.
  • by timmyv (840681) on Friday December 31, 2004 @02:44PM (#11229406)
    I guess I neglected to mention that the "corporation" I work for is a state government. Therefore Open Standards are essential to allow for:
    The types of files we are talking about are essentially textual documents, spreadsheets, databases, etc. 2 of the 3 OOo provides, but I have a pretty good idea of how our user base would respond if we upped and replaced all their MS Office installations with Open Office, or for that matter how our DBAs would respond if we moved entirely to MySQL or MaxDB without a strong policy or incentives.
  • by abb3w (696381) on Friday December 31, 2004 @04:30PM (#11230248) Journal
    Ah, that's a somewhat more clear problem.

    For free access to documents by citizens, PDF is pretty good. There are viewers for most platforms (I don't know about BSD or Solaris, but Mac/PC/Linux all are OK); and there are non-Acrobat print-to-PDF knockoffs at economical prices. Requiring PDF publication of all publicly available printed documents in, say, PDFv1.2, PDFv1.3 or PDFv1.4 would be a useful and not overly onerous step. (Adding forms-completion ability to the PDF requirement might well be too much.) The PDF standards are public, although copyrighted.
    M$ Office has free viewers for older versions on Windows, but the Mac version isn't native on the current Apple OS, and OpenOffice is the only viewer I know for .DOC under Linux. =)

    As far as permanence of data, nothing beats the long term unkillability of a bare TXT file; it also allows improved handicapped accessibility to the data in the process. For databases (w/o queries) and single-page spreadsheets, CSV comma-separated text format is similarly hard to destroy. Most Office Suites will read in such applications. For charts and other pictures, JPG may eventually be replaced, but will probably be readable for a long time. Of course, data corruption is always a risk (especially for JPG), so backups should be made redundantly, and be prepared for at least one major media format migration (EG: CD to DVD-Blue, or whatever). Requiring that any software be able to import from and export to these as relevant would be a reasonable and not overly onerous step.

    Security is a more problematic issue. Some documents are meant to be kept non-public, barring (or even given) FOIA requests. Were it in my desmene to do so, I would still require the creation of the files for archive purposes, but storage off-site at a secure abandoned-salt-mine-type facility. Given that Security is oft diametrically opposed to Accesibility and/or Permanence, this may be a problem.

    Oh... and PDF has some built-in security features. Requiring them to be used only when such security is mandatory might be worth thinking about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 31, 2004 @07:53PM (#11231287)
    MS-office2003 is XML format but that does not mean it is open.

    It is restricted by patents, see..
    http://news.com.com/Microsoft+seeks+XML-rel ated+pa tents/2100-1013_3-5146581.html
  • Re:PDF (Score:3, Informative)

    by PhlegmMaster (596165) on Friday December 31, 2004 @08:09PM (#11231371)
    The only issue with PDF is the tendancy to be one-way. But there are programs out there designed to convert PDF documents to other formats.

    There's also -
    pdf2txt@adobe.com
    pdf2html@adobe.com
  • I don't know of converters that turn XML,SGML->HTML, but they probably exist.

    The tool to convert from domain-specific XML to XHTML is called XSLT. For more info, Ask Google [google.com].

  • by The_Dougster (308194) on Saturday January 01, 2005 @04:18AM (#11232778) Homepage

    Well, for CAD, its a screwed up world. The best/most portable format is probably IGES, except its such a huge specification that nobody's IGES file is compatible with anybody else's. I'm an engineer and for myself I use Turbocad 10 professional at home. It reads/writes AutoCAD files and numerous other formats, and is somewhere in between AutoCAD and Pro/Engineer in terms of its capabilities. You'll have a tough time convincing any corporation to use TurboCAD though.

    For text documents, HTML would be good, except MS products tend to produce the most screwed up HTML files I've ever seen. All I can recommend is to use PDF files for important and official documents because they are essentially immutable and tend to produce consistent hardcopies from any computer.

    OpenOffice formats are nice, and if I were starting up a new business I would of course set up Linux workstations to use OO exclusively, and put a Windows machine down in the IT room so the IT staff could convert any troublesome documents that come through the email.

    For Visio, there is no equivalent, other than exporting the visio file as a DXF or maybe a WMF. Windows MetaFiles never seem to load right in other apps though so thats something to think about. SVG files will probably be the future here if Dia starts using them.

  • Re:OpenOffice (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 01, 2005 @06:11AM (#11232935)
    Well, actually. The OASIS OpenDocument format will be supported by OpenOffice.org, KOffice, and apparently IBM. It is an OASIS standard and by next year it will be an ISO standard. And the EU is thinking of making it the standard format for pan-European government data. Finally, the specification is not controlled by OOo, but the OASIS, an non-profit standards group, and under the blessing of ISO.

    So... the format is pretty much vendor neutral.

    Cheers,
    Daniel Carrera.
    OpenOffice.org volunteer.
  • by garyedwards (317746) on Sunday January 02, 2005 @06:46PM (#11240538) Homepage

    There are no "StarOfficeisms" in the OASIS XML Open Document file format specification. Least ways not any we know of. By December of 2004, when the OASIS TC submitted the XML file format specification to ISO, all known references and anachronisms that might be called starisms were changed. Neutralizing changes were even made to such things as the file format extensions and mime type registrations. We even changed the name from OASIS Open Office to OASIS/ISO Open Document.

    Separating the file format from any particular application or applications suite is a big deal. Especially if there is a rising demand from enterprise level end users for an applications independent universal structured file format solution. tty. Separating the file format from any particular application or applications suite is a big deal. Especially if there is a rising demand from enterprise level end users for an applications independent universal structured file format solution.

    So the OASIS/ISO TC chose to keep that most powerful of technology terms, the word "Open", but lose the direct reference and/or suggestion to OpenOffice.org.

    The second reason for changing the name to "OASIS Open Document" is far more interesting, and directly relates to the European Union "TAC/IDA" task force recommendations based on the infamous Valoris Report. You will recall that by September of 2004, the EU had evaluated responses from both Sun and Microsoft regarding the Valoris recommendation that all EU information system purchases be required to support an open standards based XML file format specification.

    Microsoft's open XML proposal was determined by the EU to be "not open enough". This criticism was in the original Valoris Report, and not altered by subsequent Microsoft arguments. After much squealing, squawking, finger pointing, complaining and outrageous misrepresentation, in mid November of 2004 Microsoft finally conceded and agreed to meet EU requirements. More about this in a moment, but for now the important thing to note is that the EU held firm. A remarkable feat even though there is currently a range of cross platform alternative solutions that meet EU requirements, including the open and free OpenOffice.org, Sun's StarOffice, IBM's WorkPlace, and Novell's Open Office. And if Microsoft had not sold their share in Corel to a vulture investor outfit for pennies on the dollar, an investor who then proceeded to cut XML out of Corel, WordPerfect Office would also be OASIS/ISO XML compliant.

    Meanwhile, the EU was also not entirely satisfied with the OASIS XML specification as explained in Sun's response to the EU requirements recommendation. Three things in particular concerned the EU.

    First, that OASIS submit the file format specification to ISO. In September of 2004, OASIS management and the OASIS TC came to agreement with ISO that the file format specification would be submitted to ISO before years end, but maintenance and improvement would remain with the current OASIS TC. Hence the combo moniker "OASIS/ISO".

    Second, there was a great deal of concern about "custom-defined schemas". Sometimes this issue is also referred to as "user-defined schemas". Others just call it a "forms" or "template" issue. Basically it refers to an applications ability to load (or consume) an externally defined schema template that might include specific user interfaces (forms), business - workgroup logic (routing), meta data interfaces, and other things related to the emerging world of collaborative computing.

    Microsoft of course champions the auxiliary Office productivity application, InfoPath. However, in September of 2004, the OASIS TC finished work on extending the specification to include XForms, SVG, and SMiL. Current OOo -v.2 builds fully demonstrate the powerful capabilities of these extensions, including the binding of web services and data to graphical objects and forms/template widgets. Move over InfoPath. Hello OASIS UBL!

    The third issue involves EU concerns fo

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