The Open Document Society delivered the 10th ODF plugfest in London today, enabling the further development and enhancement of the Open Document Format (ODF). The event was hosted by the Cabinet Office. 27 technical experts from 8 nations to jointly improve the quality and operations of this open standard for document interchange. The youngest of the “pluggers” was 15 and from the Netherlands.

What does it do?

Whilst some plugfests focus on improving software programs, the current focus of the ODF plugfest is on the implementation of the ODF standard within software, and testing the level of functionality of the applications. As an outcome, the tools created through the Open Document Society during events allowed automated testing of each function within many mainstream applications so anyone can determine which ODF features are available in each application. Plugfest 10 London low-res logo

The goal of the Open Document Society is to enable full mobility of documents between all supporting applications on any device, removing the current issues with migrating between office packages. Historically, many users have felt trapped with their office programme and when attempting to move to another, found that the documents did not preserve all formatting and attributes. The Plugfests work to removing this barrier, and in collaboration with office document application providers, can provide the relevant support to implement portability.

It is, however, up to the application providers to ensure that the specification is fully implemented and there are still some remaining challenges where some providers refuse to implement certain features, therefore ensuring that documents saved in the Open Document format do not retain all of the information that the user has entered.

No lock in

With a strong drive to mandating Open Standards within the UK government, providers who do not fully implement the standard may be excluded from future public sector procurements, therefore forcing them to fully adhere to these standards and guaranteeing that no provider can lock the user in to any one application.

Existing examples of commitment to the Open Standards can be seen in Holland, the Dutch Government have distributed documents through a central publishing department for some time and only provide Open Standards-compliant formats, ensuring that the readers are not forced to purchase any particular application to view the content.

How does it work

As evidence of what can be achieved in a short period of time with Open Source, ODF expert Jos van den Oever created an online automatic testing interface during the days prior to the event, enabling many more people to focus on testing rather than having to run more complicated technical activities.
The tool (found here http://www.vandenoever.info/plugfest/) allows the user to drag and drop a created document in to the toolbox, add the tests and submit for automatic testing. This tool will be extended over coming months and will further increase productivity by allowing a larger quantity of less technical people to join in and produce test results. The overall objective is to be able to test against all areas of the established ODF specification.

Another tool found at http://officeshots.org/ will take your ODF documents and reproduce them using many different applications across different platforms so you can see how they will come out. It currently supports text, spreadsheet and presentation files and tests on Linux, Windows, and Mobile. Plugfest 10 London low-res tests

So what's next?

Other outputs of the event included recommendations to update the standards to allow easier implementation by application developers, and a fall back specification to enable complex interactions to be possible on a full workstation, but with simpler interactions possible on a restricted device like a tablet, mobile or netbook.

At an operational level, the questions surround practical issues, such as “How can it be implemented in a procurement setting?” still need to be answered. This may be resolved with a specification allowing the buyer and seller to agree on the requirement, ensuring a transparent and informed process. Despite the message from the Cabinet office that ODF is the way forward, many public sector users are not aware that some of the daily challenges they experience are caused by issues with existing formats, and with the implementation of the Open Standards, there will be many new improvements and opportunities.

The event encouraged lots of conversations between Government, industry experts and the community and was sponsored by the Open Source Consortium, COIS, the UK branch of the Open Form Europe, NL.NET, Microsoft and 26 other companies who donated toward the event.
Simon Phipps of the Open Source Initiative produced this blog during the first day of the event, and COIS, the UK branch of the Open Forum Europe released this press release

Plugfest 11 has been proposed for June and is anticipated to be hosted by the Dutch Government.

Summary

The event was highly valuable for the UK Government, industry and the progression of the Open Document Format. The cabinet office committed that Government will not reject any Open Format documents, and will also not collect documents in proprietary formats in line with the commitment of earlier this year. Testing tools have been developed and more testers are engaged, users of any application will ultimately feel the benefit of the improvements made. An excellent example of Open thinking people getting things done.

Posted by S J Mackintosh on 10/12/2014