Input To UK Government

My input to the UK Government consultation on document formats:

I believe it is imperative to have a single document format standard used as the benchmark for corresponding with the UK Government, rather than a named software package or a choice of formats. That standard must be capable of complete implementation by any party using only the specification without needing a relationship (such as a license) with a specific vendor or community. Among the existing full implementations there must be one which is both open source and available to citizens without charge (and depending only on other software such as an OS that is without charge). To take any other approach is to tacitly promote the business of a preferred vendor and to restrict access to government to an elite able to obtain the preferred vendor’s offerings.

I believe the proposal above is a reasonable, balanced and effective expression of these principles and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

It’s ODF Time

Now the UK’s open standards consultation is over, let’s get back to basics.

[youtube http://youtu.be/99qDuRskqek]

All these power plugs didn’t give us more choice – they instead inconvenienced us all as every vendor chose a different “standard” that suited them to power their gear. They have been superseded by the micro-USB connector for powering electronics in Europe.

In just the same way, what we need for document processing is not a choice of standards, but one open standard – ODF, OpenDocument Format.

Share freely 🙂

Making Hybrid PDFs

It’s easy with LibreOffice. Send people attachments you can be sure they can view, but which can also be edited with free, open source software.

Here’s a how-to video that explains how to make Hybrid PDF files – that’s a normal PDF file, but with the ODF source of the document embedded so that anyone with LibreOffice is also able to open and edit it. Both ODF and PDF are widely implemented open standards, so you can be sure that there’s a choice of free and open source software for editing and viewing them and that they will remain accessible in perpetuity.

[youtube http://youtu.be/EuVZcygoZsI]

The instruction sheet I edit in the video is available for download. Naturally, it’s an editable PDF!

☆ Promoting Document Freedom

Today is Document Freedom Day. It’s not the easiest subject to explain. It’s easy to explain why being free to video a police encounter in the USA is important, or why it’s wrong for your eBook to be remotely controlled by a vendor, but many people fail to understand the subtlety of why a document format is important.

Having your work in a format that will still be readable in 20 years makes sense, and being able to be sure when you share a document with others that they will be able to read it and work on it is also good. But people glaze over when you try to explain that an ISO standard is not enough. Having a document format standard that is beyond the control of any individual vendor and is fully implemented in multiple products is crucial, but seems esoteric.

So when it comes to practical actions, most people still just save their work in the format their office software chooses for them by default. They send it out to everyone without a thought for the fact they are adding their own energy to a market monopoly that restricts choice and innovation and sells our future to one of the worlds richest convicted monopolists. It’s convenient now, but who knows if the files will even be readable in the future? The largest corporations can change (Nokia started making rubber products) or even go out of business (I’ll leave you to think of an example!)

The fact it is so hard to explain to ordinary people why their choice of document format matters, why a little effort now can make all the difference in the world, is what led me to the conclusion it was worth promoting hybrid PDFs. As I wrote yesterday on ComputerWorldUK, it is possible to create a PDF that can also be fully edited.

Like ODF, PDF is a standard. Sending a PDF makes the maximum number of people able to read your work, so it’s worth the small extra effort to create it. Developing an instinct to always send PDFs ensures maximum readability, and it’s safe to assume PDFs will continue to be readable for the indefinitely long future. Using online storage instead of attaching the file can be good, but plenty of mobile and out-of-office people will be inconvenienced or excluded by that, so I’ve found people reluctant to rely on it at the moment.

Sending PDFs is the right answer. The only issue is editability. Most people just want to send one attachment, so they opt for the one from their word-processor or presentation program. By a simple software upgrade to LibreOffice, that problem is solved too. LibreOffice makes PDFs very easily, and now also comes configured to create PDFs that can be edited. I’ve created full instructions which you are welcome to pass on to others – and edit if you need to!

While I am naturally a huge supporter of Open Document Format as the best protection for our digital liberty, pragmatically I think educating and encouraging people to send PDFs instead of .DOC/.DOCX files is the best next step. When they learn the benefits of editable PDFs, they are also using ODF, of course – that’s the format that’s embedded in the PDF. But it’s a smaller, easier, less controversial step to send a PDF to all their friends and collaborators.

So celebrate Document Freedom Day with me today. Send a friend my tip about editable PDFs, or just the how-to sheet. The journey to freedom starts with the first step.

☆ Contribute To The LibreOffice Conference

I am on the Programme Committee for the upcoming LibreOffice Conference in Paris, and as a consequence I get to see the stream of paper submissions. There have already been a lot of diverse submissions and it’s already clear it will be a very interesting conference, but there is still room for more. Make sure you get your submission in before the August 8th deadline.

Of course, you can also contribute as a delegate. Registration is free and you can do it easily now. I suggest registering early as space is going to be at a premium.

☆ Brazil Signs Up To Develop Office Suites

Ripening Coffee BeansAt FISL in Brazil last week, I had the opportunity to speak as the co-presenter in a session about the evolution of OpenOffice.org – I think there will eventually be video of it. As Richard Hillesley observes, the developer community for that codebase was always stifled, and while there are some excellent and experienced developers on working on it, very few have affiliations beyond Sun/Oracle. This will prove to be the biggest issue in “rebooting” development, and I believe the overall OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice community needs to set aside its differences to address it.

During the meeting, I called for developers to start work on the code-base now, regardless of their eventual expectations of which of the two open source projects they will join, so that their skills and their familiarity with the code are developed. Change in the codebase is inevitable, but skills and familiarity gained today will remain valuable. This uniting message was well received by the audience.

Also during the presentation, Jomar Silva announced that he had just met with representatives of the Brazilian government and representatives of both the Apache (Jomar Silva) and TDF  (Olivier Hallot) communities had signed a letter of intent with the government that Brazil should start engaging directly with the office suite they depend on, rather than just consuming the code.

This growth in the developer base seems to me to be exactly the sort of news we all need at the moment, and I’m looking forward to hearing from Olivier and Jomar as the first developers are identified and start work on the LibreOffice Easy Hacks.

☝ OpenOffice.Org and the LibreOffice Imperative

As expected, the Apache Software Foundation took the first steps to admitting the OpenOffice.org project to the Apache community, following Oracle’s IBM-designed proposal. It now faces a time of maturing and proving in Apache’s Incubator.

I’ve avoided publishing articles here during the Apache discussion as I have both a history and strong views. But with the end of voting, it’s time to document the story so far. You can read my views over on ComputerWorldUK.

If that’s TL;DR, here’s a summary:  The best thing end-users can do is ignore OpenOffice.org at Apache, and switch to LibreOffice instead until the dust settles and we can all see a better path forward.

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