Open Data Formats: Intro and Documents

Open Document Formats

First off, what are the proprietary document formats I am talking about? If you had asked me about a year ago, I would have begun first by mentioning all Microsoft Office data formats: .doc, .xls, .ppt etc. It holds true that these formats are still effectively proprietary. Also, the newer versions of Office that use .dox, .xlsx, etc are also creating proprietary formats, but there is hope that the Microsoft Office 2010 edition will include new, open data formats (even Microsoft is realizing the time has come for open-ness). However, it is still not 2010, and I am going to make an educated guess that even come 2010, something like an absurd 90% of all, “documents,” being exchanged will still be saved as ancient and closed .doc’s.

Let’s say you don’t want to purchase the new software, or you know that maybe your companions and colleagues are still using the older data formats. What do you do? Here, we hold up one of the stalwarts of the FOSS movement: OpenOffice.org (note: if using a mac, may I suggest OpenOffice.org-based NeoOffice. Both of these products are complete office suites (documents, spreadsheets and presentations, as opposed to just Microsoft Word which can only create documents) that allow you to create and save in the Open Document Format, a completely open data format, which is also supported by Google Docs and the newest versions of Microsoft Office. For when you need to send your information to someone not using products that can read the Open Document Format, the OpenOffice suite is able to export to PDF (which Adobe is opening slowly and is freely readable on all platforms), as well as even that terrible, terrible .doc format.

IBM is also on board with the OpenOffice.org engine, creating what some may consider a more user-friendly experience with their Lotus-branded Symphony Office Suite
. No matter which product you use, the interface will be quite familiar to anyone who has used a Microsoft Office product in the past. For those who are still wanting some questions answer, Linuxtopia has a great guide to transitioning from MS Office to OpenOffice.

May I suggest however, that when sending out files that you were forced to convert to .doc, also include the .odt file and a brief explanation or suggestion that the person receiving the file think about switching to a more open data format? Or possibly let Wikipedia do the enlightening. Or a final suggestion might be that the person at least install an Open Document viewer, so that you can keep your data formats open, even if they don’t want to.

At the very least, even if you use Microsoft Word to compose your documents, please use older, but more open formats when exchanging files. In the case of documents, save them as Rich-Text Format (.rtf). In the case of a spreadsheet from Microsoft Excel, please save it as a Comma-Seperated Values (.csv) file, not an xls. Though these formats are not as feature-rich, they will satisfy most peoples’ document needs. Now let’s step back and take a look at the pros and cons of all this.

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