ODF guerillas rally for document freedom

Twenty-two organisations across 60 countries are taking part in DocumentFreedomDay (DFD) to raise awareness about what happens when formats are no longer supported by proprietary software.

Twenty-two organisations across 60 countries are taking part in DocumentFreedomDay (DFD) to raise awareness about what happens when formats are no longer supported by proprietary software.

Inspired by the five-year-old SoftwareFreedomDay, the DFD initiative is being driven by supporters of the OpenDocumentFormat Alliance and other organisations such as the Free Software Foundation Europe, which is currently hosting the DFD's Web site.

Google Australia, which joined the ODF Alliance in 2006, hosted Sydney's DFD effort, where ACT Senator Kate Lundy discussed the issue of document formats for long-term archiving in institutions such as the National Archives of Australia.

Despite the high-profile controversy surrounding Microsoft's attempts gain ISO certification for its Office Open XML standard, Andrew McRae, a Google Australia senior software engineer and also President of the Australian chapter of the Internet Society, told ZDNet.com.au DFD is only intended to raise awareness for ODF.

"We're not trying to focus on any standard," McRae said. McRae, also a member of the Internet Engineering Task Force (ITEF), reckons the goal of open document standards is similar to open Web standards.

"From that perspective we felt that the value of open standards is that it allowed the Internet to really explode with innovation," he said. "In a similar way we felt that open standards for documents is important as well."

"We didn't want it to be about any particular standard or issue and we tried hard to avoid that."

McRae said there is nothing in principle wrong with two standards existing side by side. "In terms of having a second standard — similar to Internet protocol having a second protocol — as long as they work together and are fully supported, then in the Internet we find that does work... There are multiple [document] standards existing today so we need to ensure there is interoperability, a way of being able to move and share documents now and in the future and that software exists to interpret these standards."

But for now, as far as the organisers of DFD are concerned, the Open Document Format is the only truly open format that meets general office needs, while Microsoft's OOXML only comes close.

"But [OOXML] fails the test for an Open Standard in various ways, including an unclear legal status as well as inclusion of and reference to proprietary technologies. It has all signs of a vendor-specific format that only Microsoft will be able to implement completely," the group writes on its site.

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