Document Liberation Project aims to break vendor lock-in

New open source developer consortium promises to end upgrade arms race, enabling users to reclaim orphaned documents

When Apple highlighted the mess we're all in with old document formats recently, it was clear we needed someone to step in and start to fix the problem. Today at a developer conference in Leipzig, Germany, someone did. The new Document Liberation Project, sponsored by The Document Foundation, seeks to collect samples of all known document formats, document them, and build import filters so they can be imported into open source software like LibreOffice.

Project leader Fridrich Strba has been a developer involved for many years in the Libre Graphics Meeting, a gathering of programmers devoted to creating industry-strength software of artists and authors of all kinds. They have previously helped develop filters to handle files from proprietary software such as Microsoft Visio, CorelDraw, Microsoft Publisher, and Apple Keynote. The filters they create are then incorporated into open source projects like Abiword, Calligra, Inkscape, LibreOffice, and Scribus, allowing these tools to unlock the data and ensure it is available long term both for creative purposes and for archiving.

The capability is both unique and necessary. "Frequently, these old files cannot be opened by any application. In fact, the users are locked out of their own content, and the most common reason for this inability to access old data is the use of proprietary file-formats that result in vendor lock-in," Strba commented in the news release.

The consequences of this proprietary lock-out can be expensive and far reaching, Strba added. "When a public administration stores documents using a proprietary or a nondocumented format, it unintentionally restricts access to essential information to citizens, administrations and businesses," he said. "Astonishingly enough, even governments might be unable to open their own documents after an upgrade of their operating system and office software."

The new Document Liberation Project aims to draw in more developers, document more file formats, and ultimately empower open source software to access and rescue the data defunct or vendor-deprecated software has rendered unusable. An important goal is to help governments, companies and individuals migrate to the Open Document Format (ODF) standard as a long-term storage format for their creative work.

ODF offers long-terms stability since new versions -- such as ODF 1.2, submitted to ISO for standardisation last week -- remain backward-compatible. Hopefully the Document Liberation Project will help return effective control over content to the actual authors. It's high time file format changes stopped being a lever to force unwanted upgrades.

This story, "Document Liberation Project aims to break vendor lock-in," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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