LibreOffice on every desk: A 10-step plan

Document Foundation has good advice for companies migrating to open, interoperable document formats and open source tools

As the experience of the City of Freiburg in Germany showed, it's not enough to decide to use open source software -- you need a workable migration plan too. Freiburg's effort seems to have failed because of a lack of investment in the migration and a lack of determination to complete it. As part of the celebration of Document Freedom Day this week, the nonprofit Document Foundation released a white paper with advice on how to perform a migration and standardize on Open Document Format (ODF).

The report, titled "Migrating to LibreOffice to promote software and document freedom," includes a strong focus on acting purposefully. It's important to "make users aware of the rationale and objectives of the migration project, so that it is not perceived as a mere solution to budget-related issues." Why? Because under those circumstances the inevitable challenges that arise from a migration will be seen as a cost of economizing rather than as mitigated by new strengths.

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What are the strengths of a move? According to the paper, the most important strength is a "significant improvement in document interoperability." These are delivered in part by extra capabilities of LibreOffice (such as the Hybrid PDF format, which allows all document recipients to see a guaranteed-faithful view of the document via PDF while also allowing editing via LibreOffice) and in part by appropriate defaults -- for example, open source fonts being preferred and available on all platforms, or saving as ODF by default so that all software packages can edit files. The paper also mentions the new support for the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS), which provides a standard, open interface for auditable document management rather than requiring a single-vendor solution.

The migration guide condenses the hard-won experiences of a number of community contributors who make their living consulting on office productivity migrations. It walks through a 10-step plan:

Step 1: Comprehensive analysis is the essential precondition. Possibly with help from a specialist consultant, a survey of your business use of office tools will reveal third-party applications, plug-ins, templates, and macros in use across your organization. You'll be surprised by what shows up. The survey will also identify the categories and skill levels of usage across your company.

Step 2: With that information, devise a pilot project. As the paper says, using "a different application with specific strengths and drawbacks ... might trigger specific workflow and interoperability issues." A pilot project will provide management with key proof points and lessons that translate the survey from step one into an action plan.

Step 3: At this point the paper recommends establishing a companywide rule that new dcuments will be circulated in the ISO-standard Open Document Format. My own experiences would augment this advice by telling staff to change their approach to documents and only circulate editable formats -- ODF of course -- when they know the recipient will need them, and to use Hybrid PDF format in all other cases. This will guarantee interoperability even if different parts of the company are at different stages of migration.

Step 4: Next, the paper recommends installing LibreOffice on every computer in the company, whether or not it's expected to be immediately used. This is a smart move. It ensures every user can try it out if they want; they will then be able to come to the training later in the process with a little experience and practical examples.

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