August 30, 2002

Commentary: Making the file format the standard

-By Ryan Leduc -

The first step in breaking the Microsoft Office monopoly is to replace the
Office file formats as the de facto file interchange standard.
Our best hope to do this is to popularize the (OO) file
formats as a replacement. These formats are not only fully
specified, even the source code for reading and writing the formats is
provided to ensure that other applications can interoperate. This
and the fact the file formats are XML ensures that we, and our data,
can't be locked in.

To popularize the OO file formats, we need to do two things: make it
easy for people to view and create OO files, and start sending files
in the OO format. To make it easy for people to view OO files, we need
a centralized Web page we can direct people to download standalone
viewers for OO, and easy instructions for download and
installations. The page should also let people know they can download
the full version for free, and have a link to a introductory page for

The OO introductory page should give a brief introduction to OO,
give simple instructions for download and installation, and have a
link to buy OO on CDROM. It should also have a link to a tutorial
page to quickly familiarize people with how to use OO, and how to get
more help if needed. A page explaining common differences between MS
Office usage and OO would also be useful.

A key step in making OO file formats easy to view would be to create
Netscape/Mozilla and Internet Explorer/Outlook plugins for OO. If
someone receives an OO file by email, they must be able to just click
on it and view the file even if they don't have OO installed. I
believe creating these plugins and making them widely available will
be important to winning acceptance.

To make these plugins widely available, they should be shipped by
default with Netscape and Mozilla. For older versions and for
Internet Explorer/Outlook, we need a central download page with clear
instructions on how to download and install the plugins. Of course,
there should be a link from the plugin page to the standalone viewer,
and the OO introductory page.

Once this is in place, we need to start using the OO file formats
ourselves. If we email or put a file on our Web page, it should be in
the OO format. Right next to it, we need to include a link to the
plugins Web page to make it easy for people to view the file. We should
make a point of telling them they can use OO for free and direct them
to the introductory Web page so they can try it out. We should tell
people that we prefer to receive files in this format.

The key to making this work is momentum. We need to make it easy, and
then start building that momentum!

Another way the momentum can be built would be if a large corporation,
with a large reach and deep pockets, stepped up to the plate. Imagine
if AOL not only distributed the OO plugins for Netscape and Internet
Explorer on its ubiquitous CDROMs, but the company also actively promoted the use
of OO files as an exchange format for its members. Imagine if AOL
actually distributed an unsupported copy of OO on that CDROM with
links to the Web page tutorials.

It's a very tantalizing "what if."

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