Document friction

Document interoperability expert: “Make ODF the default”


Public services considering switching to alternatives for their office suites should make Open Document Format (ODF) the default for all office productivity tools from day one.

This greatly reduces the number of document interoperability issues, says Michael Meeks, General at Collabora Productivity, a consultancy company. “Fixing the problems caused by the legacy proprietary formats should be made part of the migration plan.”

“This is our most critical piece of advice: migrate to ODF,” says Meeks. The alternative - mixing ODF with Microsoft’s OOXML and binary files - causes all kinds of interoperability problems that frustrate users. Those who need to use legacy applications that lock them into proprietary office suites should have ODF-based office alternatives installed on the same workstation to effectively handle ODF, Meeks recommends, as the proprietary office suite implements ODF badly.

A screenshot from the presentation - showing a significant price difference between propriety and open source office suites
Saving nearly EUR 1 million -  in costs not spent

However, he warns against creating groups of users who are allowed to keep using the proprietary document formats. This results in lots of work for developers to fix document interoperability issues. A one-shot migration to ODF would greatly reduce the number of corner cases, Meeks says.

His recommendations were part of a presentation at the LibreOffice conference in Rome last week. In his presentation, Meeks covered the use of Collabora Office - a suite of office productivity tools based on LibreOffice - at the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.

This Northern Ireland healthcare deployment proves his point, Meeks says. The Trust was required to continue using proprietary Microsoft Office formats, which in turn required all sorts of corner-case formatting and layout issues to be fixed when documents are exchanged. Examples include nits caused by fonts, form controls, tables and spreadsheet formatting.

“On the plus side,” Meeks says, “working with Collabora to solve these problems helps smooth the migration and improves LibreOffice for all".

More information:

Presentation by Michael Meeks (PDF)
LibreOfffice Conference 2017 website
ODF interoperability testing

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