Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Data Storage Software

Why Open Document Formats 478

Jem Berkes writes "In this current article about (also covered at Linux Today), I try to make a point about OpenOffice's commitment to open document formats and interchange as the strongest selling point - never mind cost. The OOo developers are putting a lot of effort into their XML format; will this pay off, and will users notice the significance of OpenDocument/OASIS document formats?" This can't be said enough: file formats are what determine whether and how easily data is portable, or whether the user is just stuck.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Open Document Formats

Comments Filter:
  • Righto Mate (Score:2, Informative)

    by fire-eyes ( 522894 )
    Till people read this: ws&file=article&sid=284
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:07PM (#11068269)
    There's a cool interview [] with Sam Hiser of here
  • by skids ( 119237 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:07PM (#11068270) Homepage
    Why no SVG support, then?
  • file size (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Morthaur ( 108553 ) <slashdot at morthaur dot net> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:08PM (#11068278) Homepage
    Speaking of superior file formats, has anyone else noticed just how much smaller OOo files are than the comparable MS Office documents? I routinely have to export files to MSO formats for peer review, and I have always marvelled at the amount of space a .doc takes by comparison.
    • Re:file size (Score:5, Informative)

      by figleaf ( 672550 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:12PM (#11068296) Homepage
      It is a compressed zip file.
      Rename it to zip and extract the files.
      The extracted files are usually larger or about the size of Word documents.

      • If your open office file is put on a disk and the disk portion with your data on it gets even the slightest bit corropted then doesn't doom any chance of recovering that file? Maybe I just spend too much time recovering files from old floppy disks gone bad that people send me and this isn't much of a problem anymore.
        • by Spoing ( 152917 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @07:13PM (#11068682) Homepage
          1. If your open office file is put on a disk and the disk portion with your data on it gets even the slightest bit corropted then doesn't doom any chance of recovering that file? Maybe I just spend too much time recovering files from old floppy disks gone bad that people send me and this isn't much of a problem anymore.

          Nope Zip files can be recovered either entirely or in part...depending on the dammage. A minor amount of corruption may not lead to any data loss -- something that isn't true if the original uncompressed data is dammaged by the same amount.

          Since the contents of the zip are text files, at worst they could be edited by hand to correct them. I can't think of a more stable document format that doesn't involve having multiple copies of the document.

      • Re:file size (Score:2, Insightful)

        But that doesn't really matter, does it? It takes up less space, for the same amount of user effort, which is really the only important metric in office apps.
    • The magic is called "zip".
      Open a staroffice document in winzip and you will find the content xml files...
    • Re:file size (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jejones ( 115979 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:28PM (#11068402) Journal
      If memory serves--I'm trying to remember where I read this, and it may be obsolete--an MS Word document file is simply a dump of its in-memory representation, so one would expect it to be gratuitously large.
      • I can well believe it. Older versions of word had this awkward tendency to crash if a document was corrupt, usually when paginating the point where the corruption occurred.

        As anyone who's written in C will tell you, "interesting" things can happen if your program hits something in memory which doesn't match expected values.

  • Stability (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scrote-ma-hote ( 547370 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:10PM (#11068287)
    I wish people would stop touting stability as a superiority of software products. I use OO and MS Office regularly, and both have crashed on me, or done very flaky things, such as refusing to save a file for some unknown reason. I'm a more than average user, but not some elitist who has configured my machine perfectly, and if I can't get things not to crash, then your average user isn't going to be able to either. They'll try the program, excited by it's superior crash record, it'll crash once, and then they'll get burned, blame the software and never try again. There's plenty of good reasons to use OSS software, but stability wise, it's no better, and note no worse, in my books than an MS product.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      An analogy on /. is like a camel with it's head up it's arse.

      An apostrophe on /. is like XML in today's software - seldom used in the correct place.
    • Re:Stability (Score:4, Informative)

      by DeTHZiT ( 631864 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:55PM (#11068564) Homepage
      Usually when you experience many random crashes, or seemingly random results from a program, there's usually a problem with your system memory (RAM).

      Try using Memtest86 [] to diagnose your system. It may be nothing, bad luck, or some other component of your system misbehaving, but it's usually bad memory.
  • by Realistic_Dragon ( 655151 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:12PM (#11068297) Homepage
    So for once the unwashed are comming to _me_ saying 'I can't read this'.

    If it ever goes away I shall have to switch back to mailing them raw TeX files again.
  • Formatting Woes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Thats_Pipe ( 837838 )
    Its funny how a free piece of software like can out-do Microsoft Office. Every format that Office produces can be read by OOo but anytime you try opening a non-Office-formatted document in Office, it freaks out and asks you to define the encoding. But it doesn't have a single encoding that will work, ever. Yes, regular text and even RTF can be opened by Office but the point is Office just can't handle anything that wasn't originally created by MS.
    • Re:Formatting Woes (Score:2, Insightful)

      by figleaf ( 672550 )
      You are right non Office products don't always write proper Office compatible documents.
      Thats why I just use MS Office.
      Atleast I am assured that everybody can read my documents.

  • by Crispin Cowan ( 20238 ) <(moc.nawocnipsirc) (ta) (nipsirc)> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:14PM (#11068306) Homepage
    I love the open document format concept. I think it is vitally important. I can't believe that enterprises and governments are willing to store critical archival documents in Microsoft Office format, and put them selves at risk of being unable to open these documents as little as 10 years hence.

    However I have tried hard to switch to OpenOffice. Even our business people have tried to use it. And the sad truth is that it just sucks. There is no way in hell that OpenOffice competes with Microsoft Office for usability. The PowerPoint clone is especially weak: in PP, common buttons like "make the font bigger" are prominently displayed, while in OO you have to hunt hard for the button in the customization menus, and even then it doesn't work right.

    This is not to say that OO is not a valuable asset. Clearly a lot of people have worked hard on it. But don't kid ourselves, this beast has a long way to go yet just to compete with MS Office 97, never mind 2003.


    • This is not to say that OO is not a valuable asset. Clearly a lot of people have worked hard on it. But don't kid ourselves, this beast has a long way to go yet just to compete with MS Office 97, never mind 2003.

      Which is quite odd, because a huge number of people still are using Office 97. The bank I work for is 100% Office 97 (on NT4, not kidding), at home I use Office 97. Actually, I strongly dislike anything beyond Office 97. I don't see any reason to upgrade... many people don't. So OpenOffice is

    • Absolutely. OO.o desperately NEEDS to find some proper interface designers.

      The problem with programmers designing interfaces is that they design them with themselves in mind.
    • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:56PM (#11069270)
      The PowerPoint clone is especially weak: in PP, common buttons like "make the font bigger" are prominently displayed, while in OO you have to hunt hard for the button in the customization menus, and even then it doesn't work right.
      Ah, I see your problem. You've been using PowerPoint and it's rotted your brain. Next time, Just Say No.
  • OO in law offices (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ir0b0t ( 727703 ) * <mjewell@op e n m> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:14PM (#11068310) Homepage Journal
    This is great news. I use OpenOffice in my small town law practice, and I'm so happy to be liberarted from the tyranny of proprietary licensing fees. Lack of compatibility between software packages (office, accounting, case mgmt., etc.) is an even bigger problem for law offices in rural areas, like mine, who want to explore open source but lack support services.

    I'm learning --- ever so slowly --- more about Linux and Samba so I can complete the office transformation some day. Its hard to find patient teachers, and tech understanding comes slowly to some of us. Its worth the effort though.
  • by beeglebug ( 767468 ) * on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:15PM (#11068311)
    ... almost every file I save in Open Office gets saved as a .doc/.xls rather than an OOo format (I can't even think of the file extensions of the top of my head, thats how infrequently I use them). If the file I am saving has to be sent to anyone, or opened on a machine other than my own, I have to go with Microsoft compatability, even though it annoys me intensly.
    • by scrote-ma-hote ( 547370 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:16PM (#11068324)
      If they don't need to edit the file, why not save it as PDF?
      • by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot @ j a m ... l l> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:30PM (#11069101) Homepage Journal
        Because, for whatever reason, most people specifically ask for doc and xls files. They tend to get snippy when you send them pdfs.

        When dealing with buisnesses that you wish to continue dealing with in a positive manner (be it for commerce, looking for a job, or any other reason), you try not to do things to annoy them overmuch. Just shrug, show them what they want to see while you do what needs to be done in the background. Most of them will be happy as long as they get the results that they wanted and what *they* see is what they expected to (there are exceptions to this, but as a general rule it's not a bad guideline).
  • by CdBee ( 742846 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:16PM (#11068321)
    Write a Firefox Extension that enables OpenOffice documents to be viewed in the browser, or edited if OOo is present on the system? (yes, this would be a lot of work)

    Suddenly you have an alternative to the traditional recipe of using .Doc files and the free MS Word Viewer to distribute written documents.
    • I should have added - I know that Word Viewer exists because Microsoft Word is pricy, and OpenOffice suite is itself free, but the time and connection charges incurred by downloading the full OpenOffice.Org makes it pricy to a significant proportion of the world's dial-up internet users.
  • by licamell ( 778753 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:17PM (#11068334)
    The main one that most people overlook is the ability to edit a section of a document and only have that section change. With binary files, like MS Word, if someone opens it up and makes one small change, then the whole file gets changed. This difference comes into play when you start considering the ability to diff files, and to use these diffs for applications such as LBFS (low bandwidth file system), or log based file systems. There is a lot of technology out there that could lead to great improvements on network/disk usage if non-binary filetypes are adopted more regularly. Currently you can only use text based files in these systems. Imagine if you could use CVS with binary files (and actually harvest the benefits of using such a system). Just my 2 cents though.
  • XML Formats rock! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:20PM (#11068347)
    Why I love software that saves as XML? You can edit their saved files with a simple text-editor (vim!), and that saved my ass once: I had to do a rather complex layout with the great DTP program Scribus, and (being still in development) some bug made it crash. Luckily Scribus saved the file before/while crashing, so I hadn't lost everything, but everytime I'd open it, Scribus would crash.
    Using a proprietary data-format, I'd be lost now. Using an XML-Format, I just open the file in a text-editor, check what happenend since my last (regular) save, copy&pasted the changes step by step to the old file, until it crashed.
    Then one step back, analyze the problem, send bug-report to Scribus-developers and be a happy man.
    • Re:XML Formats rock! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Trejkaz ( 615352 )
      I like it for that too. At one point I was managing my accounts using an OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet, and I had a Perl script which was able to extract the totals from each sheet for easy usage from the terminal. :-)
  • 50 years from now (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mslinux ( 570958 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:22PM (#11068362)
    Open, well-documented formats will allow governments and businesses to access documents/info many years from now. It's unfortunate that most IT managers don't realize how closed formats will hinder them in the future.
    • by Tim C ( 15259 )
      I really don't think many people (let alone most managers) think or care about how accessible their data will be in 50 years time.

      I agree with you, but in 50 years time, I'll be retired or dead. Most people simply don't think about things like that in the time frame of "many years from now".
    • Re:50 years from now (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bigberk ( 547360 ) <> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @07:06PM (#11068634)
      It's unfortunate that most IT managers don't realize how closed formats will hinder them in the future.
      Maybe these managers don't expect their company to still be around in 50 years. Or just might not care; so much in the business world is about today's work and this quarter's profits. But for government and my own personal work, I want to make sure the documents will last and be readable for as long as possible ("Data longevity" as its called in the article)
  • by DoktorTomoe ( 643004 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:24PM (#11068378)
    Funnily, I'm currently working on a bunch of projects to incorperate external Data Sources using Perl and OOo "template" files. E.g. it should be possible to write invoices from a database, copy a template, opening it, entering the data (address and billing information) to the right fields within the OOo file and saving it to disk. The user then should be able to review/print/PDF it and send the results to the customer. Modern accounting software already does this automagically, but my approach allows using the powerful OOo WYSIWYG for formular design - for example, any secretary would be able to write a seasons greetings on the template of december in no time.

    In another procect, I use a similar technique to visualize raw data given by CSV (e.g. Adsense data). It saves me a bunch of work I'd had to do manually in Excel.

    Magic like this would not be able utilizing proprietary file formats. OOo's XML file format has made my life easier. And I love OOo for it :)

    • I'm starting to do some testing on something similar with OOo (with a look to replacing MSOffice with OOo for a number of users), but the fact is, that sort of thing is relatively trivial in MSOffice (specifically Excel).

      Read from CSV files, Oracle tables (residing on a Linux server), and SQLServer tables, combine into one or more graphs, lists, and charts, user modify if wanted, and one button click output to Powerpoint slides and/or HTML and/or PDF.

      Interoperation like this has been a central part of MSOff

      • I don't think you understood what I tried to say... The Seasons greetings on invoices was a mere example.

        While it is right that MSO has some interoperation features, it might not have the ones I have to use. My Accounting Suite uses Postgres. So great - there seems to be no way to make an invoice with Word or Excel from one single database entry. With OOo, I write my Interoperation features by myself, in any language I am willing to, using any input format I want to.

        And try to trigger MSOs interoperatio

    • Whereas I do hate Office intensely, Office 2003 does support XML spreadsheet files, which are just as easily editable from scripts as OOo's, or perhaps easier since they don't use a zip file.
  • One of the largest problems I have had with coworkers/friends/family when they switch to OO.o is the document format. Sure, it works great on their own computer, and even takes up less space. However, I was phoned at one o'clock in the morning from a Kinko's because someone had to print up a report and the computers there didn't have OO.o.

    The problem (IMO) with OO.o is that it saves the documents in its own format by default. Sure, you can select to save it to any number of formats, but most people j
    • The default format can be changed. I saw it used in a real estate office. I asked them how they liked it, my realtor said once you got used to using something different it wasn't bad. All of their setups had MS file format as the default.
  • by Qwavel ( 733416 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:36PM (#11068442)

    I wonder how feasible it would be for other word processors, such as AbiWord, to use this format natively. Or, at least appear to use the format natively.

    That is, after all, what happens in other areas: MS owns the market leading, proprietary, format/protocol, and then the others rally around an open alternative.

    BTW, I don't think that the XML encoding is important. What matters is that the format is legally open, that it is published with good documentation, and that there is nothing hidden in it to tie people to OOo.
  • pride themselves on having such an open file format that anyone can use, but tell me:

    Are there actually any programs other than that can read/write in OOo formats?

  • by 4-D4Y ( 825020 )

    I favor html to the doc (in any shape or form), but what I do like about OOo is it's file conversions, which are still a little clunky, but they're still usable. I find the following especially useful:

    • html->doc: For when I am forced into submitting something in doc format. There'll be a link to the real html document on the first line of the doc, guaranteed :-) Too bad the CSS ins't handled better...
    • doc->pdf: Good for making nice clean finished docs, even if they're bloated.

    And it's all free.

  • by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:51PM (#11068536) Homepage
    I'm all for open file formats. That's why our own TextMaker 2005 will support OpenDocument (née Oasis) and OOo file formats. Not that developing a filter was much less daunting than developing our Microsoft Word filter... ;-)
  • by jbn-o ( 555068 ) <> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @06:56PM (#11068571) Homepage

    For Peruvian Congressman Villanueva, use of free software and free formats was critical--his letter to Microsoft on why he was rejecting their arguments [] explains how important not being locked in is to doing transparent government work in addition to treating citizens well. I'm sure he's not the only one, but his letter to Microsoft is well worth reading.

  • by mowler2 ( 301294 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @07:13PM (#11068678)
    I recently worked as a consultant for a biotech company. They where developing health care drugs for the American market, and one of all FDA regulations they had to follow, was that all documents regarding some substance or drug must be available for at least 10 years time, or more.

    This was a big reason they did NOT adopt open office, because in their corporate world (that is the opposite of real life) Microsoft Office was the guarantee that their documents would be accessible in 10 years, or more. I disagreed and did some arguing with them for the importance of open formats, but in the end they choosed Microsoft Office. Because; In the corporate world, Microsoft is king.

    I believe they made the wrong choice and (IMO) the correct way of following FDA regulations, etc, is to use open formats for data/documents/etc. However this has not yet been realized by the industry (or FDA, I believe).

    However, when the industry DO realize, all open formats will be at a very nice spot compared to Microsoft Office/closed document formats.
  • by pfunkmallone ( 89539 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @07:34PM (#11068829)
    Whether or not a file format is closed or open, isn't what's going to drive users preferences. Users generally don't care.

    The place where the open oo format can rule, is by integrating its use with other open software. Things like, an Apache server that can *create* the document format based on data it holds. By writing php scripts that can output their data directly into spreadsheets that contain formulas etc. Imagine a web application that allows the user to modify the spreadsheet online, without having to download/upload the whole thing. Think collaboration. This is where MS is trying to get too.

    The power lies in finding the advantage of documented file formats. But, the first step is creating and documenting them. We just don't have that *killer* app yet.
  • by Keeper ( 56691 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @11:30PM (#11069878)
    Given that this is Slashdot, I guess I shouldn't be terribly surprised to discover that nobody has pointed out that Office 2k3 has an XML document format: milyId=FE118952-3547-420A-A412-00A2662442D9&displa ylang=en
  • by ChipMonk ( 711367 ) on Monday December 13, 2004 @01:01AM (#11070226) Journal
    Boss wanted me to create a PostScript version of our corporate logo, so it could be scaled as needed.

    Source: a poorly rendered GIF.

    Equipment: one Linux machine, with installed.

    I found the matching font, got the dots lined up, converted it to a traced object, found the right "burnt sienna" color... but that pukey-green was nowhere in any color selector I could find.

    After hunting for nearly a half hour, for an edit box that would let me enter an arbitrary hex triplet, I just saved the file and quit OOo. Then I unzipped the document, opened the style sheet in NEdit, and changed the hex triplets by hand. Save, exit, re-zip, and open it in OOo to see if the changes were correct. Voila!

    I never, never ever would have been able to do that in a Microsoft product. I will grant that Microsoft may have made the hex triplet entry somewhat more obvious, but that doesn't mean I would have been able to find it any more easily. They absolutely control how the user accesses the document. OOo lets you access it any way you want.

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.