Open Document Standard

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Open Document Standard

by Faulkner Staff

Docid: 00011449

Publication Date: 2106

Report Type: STANDARD


community’s OpenDocument Format (ODF) is an XML-based file format
for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. As an open
standard, ODF is used in various tools and commercially available
products, and was approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as ISO/IEC 26300 in
2015. In
January 2020, the OASIS
international standards consortium published version 1.3 of the ODF
as the latest update of the standard. This report describes the ODF
standard and discusses its future directions. 



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OASIS OpenDocument Format (ODF),
Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML) and Adobe Portable Data Format (PDF)
constituencies are engaged in a struggle for market advantage, using the ISO
standards-making process to spin public perception as well as define
technical frameworks. These standards are not
completely interoperable, and competition for document archival format
dominance pits ODF against OOXML. 

OpenDocument is an open standard in both letter and spirit, approved by the Organization
for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium,
the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). ODF is used in numerous open source tools and commercial
products. The official definition for ODF is a "universal method of
storing and processing information that transcends specific
applications and providers." Microsoft’s OOXML is a fundamental technology of the Office Suite of productivity applications and more proprietary in character. While
Adobe’s PDF file format is the clear cross platform tool of choice for secure
document viewing, in practice Adobe’s format does not address the needs of
office productivity application users.


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The OpenDocument standard was developed by a technical committee in the Organization
for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium. It was originally
based on the Sun Microsystems specification for XML and was developed for Sun’s
StarOffice in order to provide an open standard for office documents. OASIS approved
OpenDocument as an OASIS standard in May 2005 and was published as ISO/IEC 26300:2006 in
November 2006.

Shortly after, Microsoft attempted to gain recognition for its Office Open XML (OOXML) as a
standard, but met determined resistance due to suspicion that the company would use the standard
to sequester data and thereby impound customers. While Microsoft handily
won the April 2008 ISO vote (ISO 29500), it was not an unimpeachable endorsement of their
technology. The voting process for standards making is itself convoluted and
is fairly malleable in the hands of a determined constituency. Designed to accommodate
what is typically a fairly collaborative, consensus oriented process,
outcomes are based on minimum percentages of votes in favor, maximum
percentages of votes against, and allow very elastic definitions of who is a
qualified voter. In the face of true controversy, this sort of flexibility
creates the potential for the perception of impropriety. In the case of ISO
29500, it most certainly did create some highly vocal sore losers.

The ISO 29500 Standards
document issued in 2008 was based almost entirely on Microsoft’s submission
packet. As published, ISO 29500 is structured
in four parts, which comprise a combined length of over 7,000 pages. To say that it was not entirely digested by
the members of the overall ISO standards making process before its
fast track publication would be something of an understatement. In
subsequent rounds of review by the Joint Technical Committee
responsible for maintaining ISO 29500, 340 defect reports were
submitted by independent technical committee and working group
volunteers. Close to 100 of these remained unaddressed at the end of
Q1 2010. Basically, this means that no one could ship a product
which rigorously implemented the standard, because the standard
itself was incomplete.

In this case, "no one"
includes Microsoft, ISO 29500’s original author and chief proponent. This is particularly troubling because fully
implementing a published standard for document
archival and retention was the key that unlocked many procurement doors for
Microsoft. After the passage of ISO 29500, several national, state and local governments
dropped administrative rules intended to prevent the creation of non-portable
public records and had the effect of excluding Microsoft Office products from procurement
competitions. When Microsoft Office 2010 shipped, it failed to fully comply with key parts of the ISO’s updated version
of the standard, although the company promised it would
comply at some future date. Meanwhile,
the standards making process members grumbled with IBM threatening to
withdraw from participation in the process over concerns of manipulation and
undue influence by Microsoft.

In October 2011, version 1.2 of ODF was approved as an OASIS Standard. On
June 19, 2015, ODF 1.2 was published as an ISO standard. ODF 1.2 provided support for digital signatures,
semantic Web technology, and the OpenFormula spreadsheet language.

OpenDocument Format version 1.3 was approved by the ISO in January 2020. OpenDocument Format v1.3 includes improvements for document security, clarifies underspecifications, and makes other timely improvements.

Competing Document Format Standards and Protocols

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Microsoft’s Office Open

of OOXML cite these benefits of the technology:

  • OOXML is capable of capturing
    100 percent of the Microsoft specific formatting detail in a document,
    including those from older versions of its products.
  • Offers comprehensive support
    for Microsoft Excel Formula Language.
  • Is designed to improve
    document recoverability in the event of corrupted or damaged files.
  • Provides efficient storage,
    achieving as much as a 75 percent reduction in file sizes through the use of
    compression technologies.
  • Is significantly faster than
    the competing OpenDocument format for file
    saves and opens.

Adobe Portable Document

In December 2020, the International Standarization Organization published the
second edition of PDF 2.0, ISO 32000-2:2020. Adobe PDF is currently the hands-down,
de facto standard for secure, platform independent document publication and
distribution. PDF is often used to guarantee the integrity of content for
distributed documents (a secure read-only viewer technology) and so does not
directly compete with OpenDocument and Office Open
XML. Subsets of the PDF specification have been approved as ISO standards
since 1975. The latest version covers:

  • PDF/Archive (PDF/A)
  • PDF/Exchange (PDF/X)
  • PDF for Engineering (PDF/E)
  • PDF for Universal Access (PDF/UA)
  • PDF for exchange of variable data and transactional (VT)
    printing (PDF/VT)

Distinctive Features of OpenDocument

OpenDocument is optionally implemented either
as a pure XML file or a compressed archive in standard ZIP file format. In
practice, the ZIP format is preferred because of its ability to contain
binary data as well as text. One of the key design values of OpenDocument is its use of the architectural principal of
Separation of Concerns, a model for breaking problems into distinct
functional units to simplify solutions. "Concerns" map to elements
of application behavior or functionality. ODF separates the concerns of
content archival by storing styles, metadata, and application settings in
separate XML files.

Key features unique to OpenDocument, according to the OpenDoc
Society, include: 

  • Broad support for all formats within the industry.
  • Support for international scripts (Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Hindu,
    Japanese, Korean, Latin, etc.).
  • Smaller in size documents as compared to legacy equivalents, which can
    save up to 75 percent of disk space and bandwidth.
  • Directly accessible content and media objects from outside office
  • Human readable XML syntax that is "easy to understand."
  • A robust underlying document structure to alleviate corrupt
  • A secure, lightweight structure.
  • Reuses existing standards wherever possible.
  • Promotes accessibility for people with disabilities. 
  • Ability to add machine processible data to document content to create
    "smart" documents.
  • A well-defined standard for spreadsheet formulas that alleviates legacy


OpenDocument has passed rigorous accessibility
review, as have many of the component technologies upon which it is built. As
the native file format for the OpenOffice application suite, ODF plays a role in solutions
that incorporate on-screen
keyboards, single switch, head mouse and eye gaze systems.


OpenDocument is available for free download and use. 

Table 1 depicts the most popular office applications and their file format support.

Table 1. Popular Office Applications’
Format Support

Product Publisher

Product Type

Supported Document Formats

Microsoft Office 2019

Office productivity
application suite for PC

Supports Strict Open XML, ODF 1.3,
and PDF. 

Google Docs, Google Sheets, and
Google Slides

Web-based word
processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application with real time collaboration support

Supports OpenDocument
and OOXML.


Freeware word
processing application licensed under the GNU General Public License

Supports Office Open XML, HTML, Microsoft Word,
OpenDocument Text, Rich Text Format, and text documents.

LibreOffice  Freeware word processor,
spreadsheet and presentation application available in 115
languages. It is a project of The Document Foundation. 
Supports ODF and OOXML.


Apache OpenOffice Freeware office productivity suite Supports ODF. 

Future Directions

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ODF is considered "future proof" — and is described as
"an international standard actively supported by multiple
applications, and it can be safely implemented in any type of
software, including open source software."

With security and Internet threats being a huge consideration for
any government or organization, it’s important to note that NATO uses
ODF as a mandatory standard for all members. A German security agency,
Bundesamt fur Sicherheit der Informationstechnik, promotes ODF because
it provides a better analysis of the techniques used in attacks and
encourages the development of custom mechanisms to detect attacks.

The UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) offered an update in April 2018
regarding its progress in utilizing the ODF standard. First, it noted,
"When the Open Standards Board adopted ODF in 2014, our intention was to
end government reliance on closed document formats and to have ODF as the main
source of editable document attachments. That hasn’t happened yet. We
recognize… the work we’ve still got to do…It’s a work in

According to the GDS, more government departments have utilized HTML for
document publishing – over ODF and closed-document formats – because it is
considered Web friendly. In other situations, some departments haven’t received
the support necessary to assist them with transitioning to an open document
format. Also, users have come forward, confused on how to open ODF files on
mobile devices. 

The GDS announced a five-step program in 2018 to help get "our mission
back on track." These steps are: 

  1. An updated publication guide is available from the GOV.UK Web site so that
    publishers are educated on the fact that they need to provide an open
    standard format version of their documents that are uploaded. 
  2. Publishing teams who repeatedly upload documents in closed formats without
    providing an open format equivalent will be contacted and educated on the
    benefits of using open document formats. 
  3. Historic documents that are often downloaded will be republished in open
  4. Guidance will be improved for users who aren’t aware of how to open ODF
    files on their mobile devices. 
  5. Statistics will be gathered on files that have been uploaded and
    downloaded on a quarterly basis. Once that information is assessed, the GDS
    will better understand if its actions are effective. 

The GDS explained later in 2018 why it chose ODF: 

  1. ODF is an open standard that allows suppliers to create interoperable
    office productivity solutions. 
  2. It allows stricter security checks to help prevent common cyber
  3. Lower IT costs due to ODF being free or low in cost to use. 
  4. Easier ability to share documents among the government, businesses, and
  5. ODF allows government staff to edit and share documents. 
  6. Wide range of compatibility with various software and assistive
  7. Enables the addition of digital signatures to documents. 
  8. Offers a generic metadata system. 

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Adobe Portable Document
Format Specification Information: 
Apache OpenOffice: 
Government Digital Service (GDS): 
International Standards
OASIS Open Document Standard Document:
Office Open Multi Platform Multi Language Office Suite:
OpenDoc Society: 
Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS):

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