November 2, 2005

OpenDocument Fellowship formed

Author: Tina Gasperson

Massachusetts made history recently by becoming the first state to require its agencies to use applications that support the Open Document Format (ODF). In fact, no other country requires the use of ODF yet, although the European Union recommends it. Now, support for the open standard has sprung up in a new organization, the OpenDocument Fellowship.

Some individuals who are members of The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), have joined forces with some individuals from the Open Source Consortium and SchoolForge UK to launch the OpenDocument Fellowship.

The Fellowship hopes to sponsor and develop applications that complement the ODF, including an OpenDocument viewer, according to founding member Adam Moore. "An ODF viewer would do for ODF what Acrobat Reader did for PDF," Moore says. "[It would allow] anyone, no matter what level of OpenDocument support their software has, to view and print an OpenDocument formatted file."

Moore says other members are working on a metadata aggregator for ODF files. Metadata aggregators make databases searchable by certain specific fields, such as author information, editors, creation dates, or other user-defined fields. OpenDocument format files are rich in metadata, so one of ODF's initial goals is to write libraries that understand and interpret the data. Eventually the Fellowship wants to write a GUI application that will allow users to search and sort OpenDocument files based on this metadata.

The Fellowship also exists to provide information about ODF and to make sure that software developers and companies have the tools needed to ensure compatibility with the open standard, such as the OpenFormula project. "We will support development in the OpenFormula project," Moore says. "This is a key area in which OpenDocument can be enhanced."

The goal for OpenFormula is to define spreadsheet formulas in a way that is highly compatible with OpenDocument and OOo, and to allow users of any application to exchange spreadsheets without formula interoperability problems.

Jason Faulkner, another member of the Fellowship, says the organization exists to support those who support OpenDocument. "We want to be able to show governments, non-profits, corporations, etc., how open standards can help them preserve their data," he says. "We want to be here to answer their questions. Over time we hope to build a stockpile of resources people can look through to get their questions answered about OpenDocument."

Both Faulkner and Moore say the OpenDocument Fellowship is not about proprietary software versus open source. "It's about open standards and access to data," Faulkner says. "We believe that no matter what tool you use - be it StarOffice, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org, or others, you should be able to rely on your data being accessible."

Moore says the move toward open standards is bigger than open source. "Although many of our current members have a history of serving in the open source community, it is important to make it clear that OpenDocument is not a proprietary versus open source issue." He adds that "big players" are joining the push for ODF, noting that Adobe has joined the OASIS Technical Committee that maintains OpenDocument, and Corel has plans to support ODF in the next iteration of WordPerfect.

Moore says open standards are important because they allow users to move from one environment to the next easily. "My experiences with a wide range of teachers and support personnel has given me a unique advantage in explaining how moving to open standards can benefit them," he says. "Being able to show different applications that use the same format just proves to the critics that using the OpenDocument standard increases competition," instead of stifling it.

Faulkner runs OldOs.org, a site dedicated to helping "old computer" enthusiasts. "I began receiving emails from people, thanking me for helping them get a computer running," Faulkner says. "The overwhelming majority said the reason they needed to get their old PC back up again was to retrieve a file in an old format which had no modern reader. My hope is that by working to promote open standards, in five, ten, or even twenty years, anyone will still be able to access their data without going through a large hassle."

The OpenDocument Fellowship Web site has more information about the organizations, as well as an FAQ, resource section, and list of applications that support ODF. Membership in the OpenDocument Fellowship is by invitation only, but the ODF advocates mailing list is open to the general public.

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