ODF Plugfest: "ODF still needs to establish itself"
Five years after being adopted as an official ISO standard, the Open Document Format (ODF) still appears to have a long way to go, despite the support it has received from politicians and administrative agencies. Andreas Kawohl from the civic centre and IT processing department at Freiburg City Council told Friday's session of the ODF Plugfest in Berlin: "ODF is a long way from being able to function as a standard format for exchanging documents". According to Kawohl, 2000 administrative staff in Freiburg are now using both Microsoft Office and OpenOffice, with 70,000 OpenOffice documents generated over a six month period, but hardly anyone outside of the organisation is able to use them.
In 2007, Freiburg City Council took a decision to use only PDF and ODF within the municipal administration in the medium term. In the course of achieving this, the organisation's 2000 office workstations were to be converted from Office 2000 to OpenOffice. The aim was to free the council from existing dependencies on specific vendors and to save the money spent on software licenses. After "ten years of monoculture", declared Kawohl, very few staff had any understanding of the term 'interoperability'. Many are frustrated at having to move away from a comfortable environment with a familiar office suite.
Along with Munich, Freiburg is, according to Kawohl, one of the few cities in which ODF is accepted at all – most council departments require documents in .doc format. Currently, the only way of finding out whether another council agency is able to read an ODF document is to send them a test file. On top of this, notes Kawohl, programs such as LibreOffice and Microsoft Office currently render ODF files differently. Contracts and other official documents must, however, look, "exactly as they did when created." To ensure interoperability and continuity, Kawohl therefore called for design rules for official documents which would exclude frames and watermarks.
Björn Lundell, from the Software Systems Research Group at the University of Skövde in Sweden, reported a similar experience. In 2009, the Swedish government decided that all e-government-related document traffic should use open standards and, where appropriate, open source software. However, a survey by his research group found that 83 per cent of Swedes live in towns and cities which are "unwilling or unable to process ODF." Only 8 per cent of Swedes could expect to receive documents in ODF or PDF/A format from council agencies.
According to Lundell, out of more than 200 municipalities, 70 per cent admitted that they were unable or unwilling to process ODF. On requesting documents from 1999, citizens were sent a Word file in 74 per cent of cases, a PDF (18 per cent) or a rich text format (RTF) file (6 per cent), but not a single ODF file. In addition, problems arose when trying to open many files from 1994 and earlier, as they were in some cases dependent on proprietary database queries and macros.
According to Lundell, most municipalities did not evaluate software before purchasing it. Software was purchased on the basis of habit rather than strategy, and decisions made were not documented. There was also confusion over differences between document formats and applications. 86 per cent of those surveyed had used Microsoft Office, three per cent OpenOffice and five per cent had used both.
Thomas Caspers of the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) said that even ODF documents, like other formats, could be a carrier for malicious code. But, on the other hand, he noted that open standards allow malicious code to be precisely analysed, security tools to be more easily customised and appropriate procedures for detecting attacks to be developed.
In an earlier version of this article, Thomas Caspers' comments were reported ambiguously, and have been corrected.
(Stefan Krempl / djwm)