A public sector organisation should only refer to a software or file format standard if the standard has been implemented in a sustainable open source software implementation. Without such implementation there is significant risk for the organisation, recommends Björn Lundell after a review of public administration's policies. Lundell is a researcher at the University of Skövde in Sweden.
The implementation of a standard in open source is a good sign of openness, says Lundell, who presented the most recent results of his research into the longevity of electronic documents at the ODF Plugfest on 18 November in the Dutch city of Gouda.
The Plugfest is a workshop organised once every six months, where software makers of office suites work on their support for the Open Document Format (ODF). This is a standard for electronic documents developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Lundell in particular is interested in the longevity of electronic documents created by public administrations in Sweden. The past few years he tested the electronic document strategy of all 290 municipalities in that country, finding that a major part of these documents is no longer accessible. The applications that created the documents are no longer in use, no longer available or upgraded without ensuring backwards compatibility.
Together with other researchers at Skövde, this year he took a closer look at two competing open document standards, ODF and Microsoft's alternative OOXML, also approved by ISO.
The two researchers compared the number of source code contributions during the past four years for two open source projects, the Open Office and Libre Office editors, supporting ODF, and Docx4all, supporting OOXML. "The Libre Office project has 664 committers, the Docx4all has only two. On average, Libre Office has 2851 commits per month, and Docx4all gets 29."
Lundell acknowledges that Docx4all is a much smaller project. However, he concludes that for OOXML there is hardly any support in open source applications. "OOXML's ecosystem has zero health."
The results of this study, a paper he wrote with Jonas Gamalielsson, titled 'Open Source communities for long-term maintenance of digital assets: what is offered for ODF & OOXML', will be published soon in a report on a workshop, by the Tampere University of Technology.
Gamalielsson, J. and Lundell, B. (2011) "Open Source communities for long-term maintenance of digital assets: what is offered for ODF & OOXML?" (to appear)