Open document standards will cure Apple's bit rot

Apple's iWork update won't let you access documents created as little as five years ago. The solution is obvious

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This is the exact reason behind the creation of the internationally standardized Open Document Format over a decade ago. Faced with regular forced "upgrades" to versions of software offering little more than the ability to view the files people were sending us, the open source team at Sun Microsystems decided in 2001 to create a truly open, XML-based document format for editable productivity documents. We donated an initial specification to the OASIS standards body, and many others gathered around to create a truly open, software-and-platform-independent set of document formats. Today those formats are supported by all serious productivity software; only those pursuing a lock-in strategy eschew them (in fact, it's a key indicator).

For successful corporations, there is a corporate aging cycle that progresses relentlessly. There is a sense in which IBM is now becoming GE, Microsoft will become IBM, Apple is becoming Microsoft, Google will become Apple, and so on. It's a natural consequence of successfully negotiating the challenges explained by Clayton Christensen in "The Innovator's Dilemma." We can expect to see this same scenario played out time and time again as each growing business uses proprietary lock-in as a profitable weapon against customers.

This is a perennial problem -- with perennial solutions. One of the best is to use open source software like LibreOffice, the community-developed successor to the project from which ODF was originally created. LibreOffice is a Swiss Army knife of file import filters that will rescue a huge number of files in proprietary formats, and from them create open standard ODF and PDF files that you can safely archive and expect to be open long into the future. I'm even told the group is currently working on an import filter for Apple's proprietary and changeable Keynote file format.

Open standards and open source programs are such good news it's worth taking the time to tell others. Next week sees Document Freedom Day, an annual celebration of the flexibility to keep using the documents you create beyond the boundaries imposed by vendors. The website is full of resources to help you persuade those around you, and you may even find there's an event being organized near you. Break the cycle of format lock-in by insisting on open source and open standards.

This article, "Open document standards will cure Apple's bit rot," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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