Some time around 2009 or 2010, the OpenDocument community realized that while it had won the moral battle over Microsoft and its dubious OOXML standard, it had lost the adoption and ecosystems war.
Microsoft Office had been released and with it an undocument format called OOXML which, as far as experts were concerned, had little to do with the ISO 29500 (aka OOXML) standard. While Europe and Brazil were struggling to migrate their public sector’s documents to ODF, any company or government, let alone any individual acquiring Microsoft Office 2010 migrated to the new and shiny OOXML, officially without remorse or complaint. The ODF advocacy groups here and there were launching all sorts of events and meetings to guide and assist migrations to ODF. Results were mixed. We had victories. We had defeats. At the end of the day what was at stake was fear of failure and change from CIOs and IT services. That’s still the case today. But while these are mostly human factors, there is one thing we hadn’t tried yet, or at least hadn’t been tried enough: turning the hundreds of thousands of files that are out there and locked up in various proprietary file formats to ODF documents.
This week the Document Foundation announced its second major project, the Document Liberation. Its aims is to pool and collect every file format filters we have and that people are willing to contribute and develop them so that they not only keep improving but are distributed in the largest number of applications. The aim of the Document Liberation is thus simple: to enable everyone to own its content and to bring a solution to vendor lock-in and undocumented file formats. In doing so, the project is keeping a promise made a long time ago, specifially by ODF. But ODF is a format itself, and while it is enjoying a pretty widespread adoption, it has not done what Microsoft did with OOXML: propose a smooth transition through a change people can accept. In the case of OOXML, as lousy as it seems, people accepted the change because they didn’t know better: Microsoft does this for a reason, so things will pan out all right in the end. They’re taking care of my documents. The industry will follow.
In the case of ODF, no one was in such a position, except perhaps Microsoft. The approach we’re taking today is to offer a solution to a very real problem millions of people have: they don’t know what to do with their files if they haven’t migrated them to a more modern, but not necessarily more standard or more open file format. To these users, we offer a range of choices depending on their “predicament”. We will add more filters as time goes by and the community grows. To developers we offer an exciting place to contribute code by improving existing format filters and proposing new ones. To everyone we offer code that will ensure the continuity of access to content locked in countless files scattered across the Internet, personal computers, corporate, academic and governmental archives. In doing so we not only help ODF keep its promise to liberate documents once and for all, we help make the world a better place by empowering everyone to access and create more digital knowledge and unleash creativity. This promise lies at the core of the Document Foundation’s mission.