Brussels / 30 & 31 January 2016


Interview with Jos van den Oever
The Future of OpenDocument (ODF). Maintaining the Momentum

Photo of Jos van den Oever

Jos van den Oever will give a talk about The Future of OpenDocument (ODF). Maintaining the Momentum at FOSDEM 2016.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Certainly. I work as a Dutch civil servant in the department that publishes official documents. Many important public documents go through software that I helped write. And since September 2015, I am in the OpenDocument Format committee (ODF-TC) for the Dutch government.

WebODF and Calligra are ODF projects that I’ve coded on. Now, I’m building a community web site for ODF. There is a detailed talk about that in the OpenDocument room.

Outside of ODF, I like to work on a private web proxy (in Haskell) and play the trombone.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

How to make a standard a success. A standard is a stepping stone to new innovations. Once those innovations grow, they should become public standards and then the new cycle starts. So a good set of standards is a sign of health.

In the case of writing text documents, spreadsheets and presentations, we have a specification, ODF, but it’s not a standard everywhere. And that’s a shame. So how can we fix this? That’s the topic.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

The main aim is to raise data awareness. Every one of us is creating content on their computer day in day out. Where is that content in 10 years? Can you still read it with the software of your choice? Or does the content you created tie you to a product you do not want any more?

Compared to email and web, office documents are extra challenging, because they are usually not written in one go, but via a number of modifications by different people with different software. And they might be read by people with even other software. And that’s how it should be. The goal of a good ODF specification and ODF community is that everyone has a choice of software that reliably works with such documents.

Q: We are now more than ten years after the first specification of the OpenDocument Format. Has the goal of providing an open, XML-based file format specification for office applications been achieved?

Yes, that goal has been achieved. It was achieved with version 1.0. Version 1.1 fixed teething problems and version 1.2 added groundbreaking features such as RDF, digital signatures and formalized the spreadsheet formulas. We are in a situation where the specification is ahead of the market. This is not uncommon. It took years before HTML, CSS and SVG worked reliably across browsers. But now that they do, insane amounts of cool things are built on top of that.

Q: What are currently the biggest painpoints of ODF?

Adoption and interoperability and these go hand in hand. When adoption increases, interoperability will improve and vice versa. People can be hesitant to combine software from different vendors in their workflow. We can take away this hesitation by showing that, yes, for your workflow you can safely use these programs together.

Keeping track of what works in what product and fixing what doesn’t, is the biggest challenge at the moment.

Q: Which new features can we expect in ODF 1.3?

I suggest you come to the presentation.

Q: What are some probable additions to ODF in the future?

At the last LibreOffice conference, I did an audience poll on what is most popular. There might be a similar poll at FOSDEM.

Q: How can interested people contribute to ODF?

The simplest thing you can do is to use ODF where appropriate. Use it and ask for good support for it from your software vendor. And help other people to use ODF. Suggest to your company, your government, your friends to standardize on ODF.

For the developers: support ODF in your software. There is a lot of nice ODF software and it’s easy to make more. Since ODF re-uses XML, SVG, CSS and other well-known technologies, learning ODF is a good investment of your time.

Projects like LibreOffice, Calligra, Abiword, Gnumeric and WebODF are open to new people. I hope that the coming refresh of the ODF community site (keep an eye on will become a center for ODF activity.

Interoperability testing, online and at ODF plugfests, is a good way to contribute too.

If you are into open data, consider using ODS instead of CSV. ODS has RDF which ties in nicely with the semantic web.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

Oh yes. I always enjoy FOSDEM and go almost every year. It’s such a bustling conference with many old friends and new technologies. There are many different communities and it’s great to get in touch with the people in them. It’s all about making, using and sharing.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.