Search Queries Show: People Want To Use ODF

Friday, 2007-April-06 at 11:45

This blog is by no means a high-traffic site, but it is pretty consistent that 65 to 70% of people that arrive from Web search engines are asking how do I open [.odt|.odp|.ods] files?. Most of the rest are asking about VMWare or Qemu.

It isn’t just here. Two other blogs of mine show a similar pattern. One has nothing related to virtualization on it, and over 80% of site visitors come from Technorati or IceRocket or the Google or Yahoo search engines, looking for ODF information (it has, I believe, two postings on the topic). The other has more virtualization stuff in it and still gets 40% of its traffic from two postings about ODF.

While a certain large software vendor claims that no one is asking for ODF support in their products, I see right here at Opportunity Knocks, around ten requests a day from their own search engine, using the built-in IE7 search, along the lines of “how to open .odt file in Word” or “how to open .odp file”. Since I can not assume that anything I write is even in the first few pages, this surely indicates that people want to use ODF.

So here are two challenges:

  1. For the ODF and FLOSS communities: Let us promote and improve the standard by:

    • Ensuring that any flaws or holes are uncovered and filled this year.
    • Building freely-available libraries (under licenses like LGPL and Apache v.2 that make them available for both FLOSS and commercial distribution) for various operating systems and programming languages/environments to enable full or partial manipulation of data within ODF file formats.
    • Building complete applications that utilize data within files (in ODF formats like .odt and .ods) for things like summary reports, Web graphics and charts, database queries, and bulk conversion of directory contents to ODF file formats from proprietary binary formats or the reverse.
    • Building templates that work across ODF-compliant applications for things like resumes, business cards, recipes, garden layouts and similar common tasks.
    • Creating informative documentation about a variety of subjects and posting it to the Web in ODF formatted documents. I generally support the idea of using read-only formats such as PDF for such tasks. However, there are a large number of such documents out there in proprietary binary formats–we need to ensure that people have the ability to get them in open, XML-based ODF–including things like government documents.
  2. For Microsoft: Be honest and add built-in, full-peer support (that is, fully-equal to traditional binary, OOXML, or your OOXML+macros formats) for reading, editing, and writing documents in ODF file formats within your office suite and your server-based content-management products. Since it is now obvious that people are both using ODF and sharing ODF files in personal and business settings, your “let the customer choose” campaign should be followed by actually enabling customers to choose the formats and applications that they want to use:
    • File formats within office applications
    • File format requirements within enterprises that use server-based content management
    • File formats within your function-crippled home software application Works
    • Office applications and server software products and vendors, based on features that are important to the user/purchaser, such as price and functionality

In my opinion, this is of large enough interest in the user community that the time for whining and gamesmanship out of Redmond should be over. Instead of fighting to revive a dying format (MSFT-ECMA OOXML) while claiming that the information about its faults is all “FUD”, it is time to support the needs of your users and join us who have already made the switch to ODF. Do not be a hard-headed holdout like Sony was with Betamax. The winner is ODF, we already know, so avoid the embarassment of abject failure and the hardship on those users who do choose to go with you (until your certain surrender).

Brian? Doug? The ball is in your court now. You can join us in cooperation and competition, or you can go sulk in your corner.

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