The mixing of outdated and incompatible versions of OOXML, an XML document format, is hindering implementation in open source office alternatives, according to a study published on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."