Three years ago (!) I wrote a post called “How do you share documents?” where I essentially said “When you give documents to others that you do not expect them to change, use PDF. If they need an updatable form, use ODF.”
I’m happy to report, at least within IBM, this document sharing strategy is really taking hold. I suspect it is true with many other organizations as well, though not all, of course.
Why is this happening? First of all, many people are moving away from Microsoft Office and therefore their document storage format is now more likely to be ODF, the Open Document Format, rather than the classic .doc, .ppt, and .xls. What is enabling them to move is the free availability of software like Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice.org. Moreover, these applications offer free PDF generation.
Newer versions of Microsoft Office offer PDF support and rather odd partial ODF support, but I don’t now have and have no plans to obtain any version of Office. I just don’t need it. Perhaps it might be my personal history fighting what I still consider the unnecessary OOXML specification, but I never, ever get sent an OOXML file from anyone inside or outside IBM. It takes surprisingly little education to convince people that using OOXML is a bad idea.
Looking at my own email, I would estimate that 10% of the attachments are either .doc or .ppt files, with the rest being ODF or PDF. For the moment, people often send both ODF and PDF, but for final presentations on conferences calls, it is almost always just PDF.
This kind of transformation takes time, but it is just a question of changing the network effect. Start by not sending modifiable document files when a PDF will do. Then start using ODF instead of Microsoft’s classic proprietary formats. Do it first in work groups or departments. Get some senior people to start using PDF and ODF. Others will follow their example and, little by little, you’ll see this scheme starting to take hold.
Don’t be afraid to make policy as in “All presentations delivered to senior management must be in PDF format.” You may lose some bells and whistles, but I suspect at that level they are really more worried about content.