Call to fix interoperability…

Call to fix interoperability of office suites


Last week Monday, five European public administrations published a new call for tender, to further improve interoperability between free and open source office suites and the ubiquitous proprietary alternative. This is the second time that the German cities of Munich, Leipzig and Jena, the Swiss Federal Court and the Swiss Federal IT Steering Unit have issued such a call. ICT specialists have until 30 April to submit proposals.

The office suites' interoperability project is again managed by the OSB Alliance, a trade group representing open source service providers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

According the alliance's press release, one of the main features to be developed concerns change tracking between open source and proprietary office suites. The public administrations issuing the call want to improve the specification of change tracking, and make this part of the Open Document Format ISO standard.


This precision should clear the way for the proprietary software vendor to implement ODF's track changes in its office suite, explains Svante Schubert, an open standards expert who helped write the tender specification. "The Microsoft Office suite currently strips change tracking information from ODF documents, making the exchange of ODF documents impossible with inveterate users such as legal departments."

The tender specification lists five additional features to be developed, including new spreadsheet functions, chart styles and improved mail merge capabilities. The project is expected to be completed later this year. All code contributions are to be committed to the LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice projects. The source code is to be made available using the Apache Software License 2.

Episode 1

Two years ago, in the first phase, the City of Munich, the Swiss Federal Court, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, and other public administrations gathered 160,000 euro to pay for improved support for Microsoft's proprietary OOXML in LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice. The alliance published a public tender in February 2012, and the contract was awarded to the SUSE LibreOffice Team and Lanedo, an IT service provider based in Hamburg.

That code was committed to the LibreOffice project in the summer of 2013 and the improvements are included in LibreOffice versions 3.6 and later. The code is not yet included in Apache OpenOffice, says Matthias Stürmer, a Swiss researcher, and responsible for the alliance procurement project. "OpenOffice does not have the same OOXML filter as LibreOffice and cannot include the changes immediately."

Contributions from other public administrations are very welcome, adds Stürmer. "We hope more authorities will join us in improving office suites' interoperability."


More information:

OSB Alliance press release on the second phase
OSB Alliance office interoperability project, overview
Specification for feature improvements for LibreOffice / Apache OpenOffice (PDF)
Announcement on the result of the first phase
OSOR news item
OSOR news item
Blog post by Simon Phipps

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