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Open source hindered by OOXML incompatibilities

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The mixing of outdated and incompatible versions of OOXML, an XML document format, is hindering implementation in open source office alternatives, according to a study published on the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR) today. The different OOXML versions also pose difficulties for public administrations that use different proprietary office suite versions, and the inconsistencies are causing problems with older documents. The OOXML document format is hindering the interoperability of suites of office productivity tools.

The document format puts developers of free and open source software at a disadvantage, forced to spend time programming features that deliver compliance to a proprietary office suite, and not the standard. The study reports on free software developers' step-by-step work to check the output of their software with different versions of the ubiquitous proprietary office suite. "In the end these filters will still comply only with version X of the proprietary suite, not the full OOXML standard."

The study quotes several leading developers involved in Apache OpenOffice and Libre Office, two well-known open source office suite alternatives. For example, Svante Schubert, one of the veteran engineers from OpenOffice who is working on the interoperability of office suites, says: "You can develop an OOXML-compliant implementation, covering all the mandatory OOXML features, but this implementation will very likely not be compatible with the majority of the OOXML documents that are out there."

Public administrations should not rely on the document format, the study quotes Björn Lundell, a computer science professor at the University of Skövde in Sweden, as saying. The mix of OOXML versions means that open source office suites can not achieve adequate interoperability, he says. Lundell says his tests show that even the proprietary vendor's own office suites can not handle the variations. In the OSOR study, Lundell is calling for a renewed discussion on the document format. "Just making a reference to proprietary functionality as it appears in different versions of the proprietary office suites does not stand up to analysis."


More information:

OSOR study


Peter Brown
Posted by Peter Brown on July 24, 2014 at 1:43

Who commissioned this study and who wrote it? More to the point: why is this even news?

There seem to be several factual inaccuracies as well as failing to actually state anything new or useful. I can take an arbitrary file in .odf and open it in Microsoft Word and save it again as ODF. Equally, I can take an arbitrary file in .docx and open it in OpenOffice and save it in .docx. I don't see why anyone cares any more - the technology does what it's good at: processing data flows accurately and efficiently. As a user, I just want to open any file sent to me and know tha I can always access my content.

15 years ago it *was* an issue, with proprietary *binary* formats being the problem. Now we have a Prof from Sweden telling us "The mix of OOXML versions means that open source office suites can not achieve adequate interoperability" but failing to point out that the same is true - possibly more true - for the mix of ODF versions out there.

Ba Ousmane
Posted by Ba Ousmane on June 24, 2014 at 18:29

I am not sure modifying the standard because of incompatibilities induced by the proprietary vendors

is a good solution. I think the standard should be improved with functionality as the driving factor.

Developers of the office suites should concentrate on implementing the standard and during the transition

funding for converssion tools provided.