April 5th, 2006 at 10:48am
I spotted a rather interesting article on Slashdot yesterday about The National Archives of Australia announcing that they are moving their digital archives program to Open Office 2.0, and therefore the Open Document Format.
I personally use both Microsoft Office 2000, and Open Office 2.0, and I have to say that an awful lot of work has been done to make Open Office an almost perfect converter between a multitude of formats, and I think ODF is superior to the MS Office formats for a couple reasons.
- ODF is openly documented, and anybody (with programming knowledge of course) can create an application which can read and write the ODF format.
- MS Office documents (and other proprieatary document formats for that matter) can only really be interpreted by other applications through reverse engineering of the format, which is an error prone and highly tedious and difficult task.
- Microsoft themselves are having trouble reading early office documents…some newer versions of Excel can’t properly open Excel 2.0 files for example, which creates a problem if government documents are in these formats and they are needed 300 years from now
- ODF is XML based, which means it is purely text based, whereas MS Office documents are binary format, this creates a problem if the documents become corrupt for one reason or another. You have a much higher chance of recovering the majority of a corrupt text based document than a corrupt binary document.
- ODF is also a compressed format, if you open an ODF file as a zip file, you will find that it is really a collection of XML files and graphics, compressed in ZIP format. This not only saves on disk space, but also provides a logical way or storing the different parts of the document, again making easier to recover if a corruption occurs.
- Did I mention the fact that Open Office is free, and Microsoft Office isn’t?
The National Archives are by no means the first government agency in the world to convert to Open Office, but they are arguably the first one with such a major role in maintaining historical documents to do so. They cannot risk damaging these documents, and they also cannot risk losing them through technological obsoletion, and I think they have made the right choice in choosing Open Office, and they will now probably lead the way for many more government and private organisations to do the same thing.