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'Open file formats must be implementable in open source'

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To ensure preservation of digital assets, it is essential that specific file formats are implementable in open source software, concludes Björn Lundell, associate professor at the University of Skövde in Sweden. He recommends this should be made a requirement for digital asset strategies of public administrations, thus minimising the risk of losing control over these assets.

Earlier this week, Lundell summarised his research for the Preforma project. The project is determining critical factors in implementing standards for the long-term use and archiving of digital assets, including electronic documents, images and audiovisuals.

According to this summary, public administrations need to better understand of the fundamental challenges relating to IT vendor lock-in and the long-term maintenance of their digital assets, Lundell explains. Research shows that such assets are still in use (and stored in archives) long after the end of maintenance and support for the proprietary software they were created in. One easy way to avoid this problem is to adopt file formats that can be implemented in open source software.

Standard policies

Lundell points out that several policies by the European Commission and member states support his argument. In a communication published on 25 June 2013, the European Commission recognises the importance of open standards for addressing IT vendor lock-in, reporting that open standards would save the public sector a billion euro per year. Similarly, policies in, for example, the UK and in Sweden favour the use of open standards.

Quoting European guidelines, the researcher states that for a file format to be an open standard format it is necessary that it can be implemented in open source software.

Incompatible mix

A study published earlier this week by the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR) shows that OOXML, a commonly used document format that exists in a mix of outdated and incompatible versions, is hindering its implementation in open source software. The document format creates barriers for the interoperability of proprietary and open source office productivity tools.

Lundell's university research team is one of the organisations involved in the Preforma project, partly funded by the European Commission's Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7). Apart from its research outcome, the project aims to create a community of interest around sustainable electronic document file formats.

Magnificent seven

The project itself promises to use only open file formats and to make all its results available as open source on a public repository. To help others grappling with questions on the combination of file formats and open source software, the project is briefing legal experts. Lundell lists the first seven in his article: "We started with them, as these have an excellent understanding of open source."


More information:

Article on the Preforma project site
OSOR study
Preforma project

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