Pretoria ODF Users Workshop

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I’m a bit tardy in reporting what happened last week at the Second International ODF Users Conference, held in Pretoria, South Africa. This was the first time I was ever in Africa, much less South Africa, and so I was very much looking forward to the trip. It did not disappoint.

What always strikes me at such gatherings is the passion of those who have committed to adopting ODF. You get people who have decided for all the usual reasons that ODF makes sense for their use, or that of their department, or their agency, or their government. We’re seeing interesting and varying bottom up, top down, and middle out patterns of adoption in different parts of the world.

While it was clear that many people at this particular meeting were also strong proponents of open source, the value of open standards and ODF, in particular, was stressed again and again.

My talk was one of the first on the first day of the day and one-half meeting. In it I gave a very brief history of how ODF attracted attention starting in 2005, spoke a bit about current implementation status, and showed a world map illustrating ODF adoption. I emphasized then, as I will now, that I was somewhat liberal in how I added countries to the map. If there was strong national or regional support in a nation, it got on the map. I did not include countries where there was anything less than a recommendation for a substantial territory. I based this on the adoption document on the ODF Alliance website.

In particular, the US does not show up. I suppose I could have stretched and included it because of the adoption in Massachusetts, studies in several states, and the very strong supporting report coming out of New York. Depending on what happens in the US elections in November, we could see much greater adoption of ODF and ODF-supporting software in the next year or two.

ODF adoption map

In any case, take the map with the following wish/warning: we need more countries colored in blue. Progress on this was made within hours when Carlos González, Venezuela National Center on Information Technologies, announced that ODF is now a national standard in his country.

Given the extraordinary waste of time that was the OOXML fiasco, it would have been easy for this meeting to devolve into something negative, but that did not happen. About the least positive thing I heard was that in Microsoft’s implementation of ODF 1.1 they are planning to use the ECMA OOXML definition of formulas instead of the more logical and forwardly compatible OpenFormula definition in ODF 1.2. Hmmm. This doesn’t sound like it avoids extensions and “embrace and extend,” as I heard, it just sounds like sticking some OOXML in the middle of ODF.

In the second half of my talk I discussed the IBM Standards Principles that IBM announced a few weeks ago. I’ve discussed them in detail here, so I won’t repeat myself. That said, I want to urge people to look at what was good and positive in the ODF experience and imagine how to extend them to open standards creation and adoption in general. Avoid the bad things in any particular other effort you may know of, while you’re at it.

The meeting wrapped up on Friday afternoon. That evening I flew overnight to Athens as an intermediate point on my way to Bucharest, Romania, where I needed to be on Monday for a meeting with analysts.

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