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Interoperability Rules to achieve Document Freedom

Interoperability Rules to achieve Document Freedom

True document freedom can be achieved by using free software, open document standards, free fonts and standard document templates and styles. Users will have to learn a different process, in four easy steps, to improve the interoperability with other users, independently from the platform and the operating system.
A small effort, for a significant improvement, as the result will be true document freedom (and transparent interoperability).

Italo Vignoli

March 27, 2014

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  1. White Paper
    Interoperability Rules
    to achieve Document Freedom
    Interoperability and Document Freedom
    The large majority of personal computer users have never been taught to think in
    terms of interoperability, because interoperability would have been the tomb of
    proprietary desktop productivity suites.
    If users were free to choose the best tool for their needs - based mainly on the
    price/performance ratio - because document interoperability with other users was
    guaranteed by a true open standard format such as ODF, proprietary office suites
    would have never achieved the overwhelming market share they have reached.
    In a world of Open Standards, we would have had a different office suite
    marketplace, where competition would foster a true innovation process, based on
    useful features and not on a lock-in strategy based on document pseudo-standards,
    proprietary fonts and obfuscated operating system features.
    In fact, when document interoperability was based on the exchange of printed
    documents, there were a much more diverse set of products and fierce competition
    in the market in many geographies (for example, WordPerfect and Lotus 123 were
    leading the US market for word processors and spreadsheets).
    With the growth of the graphical desktop environment and the opportunity of
    exchanging digital documents, users of desktop productivity suites were "gently"
    nudged in one direction, with the result that in less than a decade, this extremely
    smart strategy gave the world a single, dominant, proprietary office suite and
    document format.
    Luckily, Sun's OpenOffice.org and then its independent successor LibreOffice -
    managed by The Document Foundation - have made a dent into that market share
    by providing an improved level of compatibility with the most popular document
    On one side, this has allowed an increasing number of large organizations to
    migrate to free office suites. Amongst them, the French Government with 500,000
    PCs, Comunitat Valenciana with 120,000 PCs, the Dutch Ministry of Defense
    with 45,000 PCs, and the Hospitals of Copenhagen with 25,000 PCs (to name just
    a few).
    On the other side, this has forced proprietary vendors to develop methods and
    technologies which make it increasingly difficult or just frustrating to work with
    free office suites. None of these technologies was intended to improve the user
    experience or software features.

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  2. White Paper
    All these methods and technologies have been introduced over the course of time
    into proprietary office suites: a "ribbon" user interface, proprietary fonts, and a
    pseudo-standard document format.
    The ribbon user interface, which is perceived by many as more awkward and less
    productive than the traditional menu-based user interface, has the aim of making
    OpenOffice and LibreOffice look "different".
    In addition, it consumes a significant percentage of a personal computer's scarce
    vertical screen space, leaving a smaller space for editing than a vertical sidebar.
    Proprietary fonts - the new default for proprietary office suites - can make
    documents look significantly different when opened with a free office suite, as
    they have different sizes and metrics. Although there have been advances in this
    area thanks to Google and RedHat, users complain for the visual difference even
    if contents are the same.
    The pseudo-standard document format, which is approved by ISO but shares
    many characteristics with proprietary and obfuscated formats, is the icing on the
    cake of (non)interoperability.
    In fact, it has been released in four different versions over three proprietary office
    suite releases, and only in 2013 it has been provided according to the ISO standard
    specifications, which are different from every previous "transitional" version.
    Free office suites like LibreOffice, which support this pseudo-standard, have an
    hard time in trying to reproduce the different behaviours of such a moving target.
    Unfortunately, users do not realize that several interoperability problems are due
    to inconsistencies in the pseudo-standard document format, and not to the free
    office suite.
    In a world of Open Standards, a document freedom oriented strategy should allow
    users to control all the factors which make the document easily and transparently
    interoperable with other users. In fact, document interoperability should be a no
    Achieving Document Interoperability in Four Easy Steps
    In order to achieve document freedom, we must learn to produce interoperable
    documents. Unfortunately, this means that we have to review most of our editing
    habits, and start thinking about several details which make a difference: the office
    suite, the document format and the fonts.
    At the end, we will realize that if we start thinking about interoperability when we
    create a new document, we will eventually be able to exchange transparently any
    of such documents with any other user.

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  3. White Paper
    Use LibreOffice
    Today, LibreOffice is the best available option for true document freedom, as it is
    the only free office suite independent from external influence. In fact, other office
    suites, although open source, are under the umbrella of either another open source
    project or a large corporation.
    LibreOffice is developed by one of the largest free software communities, under
    the umbrella of The Document Foundation. TDF is a German based, independent,
    not for profit entity - supported by governments, corporations and small software
    companies - which is overseeing and coordinating LibreOffice related activities.
    LibreOffice is released under a copyleft license: a key asset of the software.
    Copyleft licenses offer several advantages over other OSI approved licenses as
    they create an environment where corporate sponsored developers and volunteer
    developers can co-operate, without the risk of seeing their contributions used to
    create a proprietary software package.
    Thanks to the positive effects of the copyleft license, the LibreOffice hacker
    community has been growing steadily and - although based on a majority of pure
    volunteers - is comparable in size with the largest open source software projects.
    This safeguard the independence and the future of LibreOffice as a free office
    suite capable of competing with proprietary offerings.
    Use ODF
    ODF is the acronym of Open Document Format for Office Applications, also
    known as OpenDocument. It is an XML-based file format for office documents,
    which was developed with the aim of providing a standard file format for desktop
    ODF was developed by a technical committee in the Organization for the
    Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) industry consortium,
    based on Sun's specification for OpenOffice XML, the default file format used by
    the "parent" of LibreOffice. In 2006, at the end of a lengthy review process, ODF
    was approved as an ISO/IEC International Standard under the name ISO/IEC
    ODF is recognized and supported as a document standard by several governments,
    companies, organizations and software products. For example: NATO with its 26
    members uses ODF as a standard for documents.
    ODF is the native file format of LibreOffice, and of many free office suites and
    applications: AbiWord, Apache OpenOffice, Calligra, GNUmeric and NeoOffice.
    In addition, ODF is supported by proprietary office suites and applications.
    An open standard for office documents represents a dramatic improvement over

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  4. White Paper
    legacy proprietary file formats or pseudo-standards.
    In fact, an open standard protects users against the effects of vendor lock-in,
    because the availability of the format specifications and the fact that the standard
    is managed by a truly independent organization such as OASIS foster document
    ODF documents - ODT text documents, ODS spreadsheets and ODP presentations
    - will always be free and accessible for everyone, because they are based on open
    specifications. This means that implementing ODF is a straightforward process,
    which provides predictable and consistent results independently from the software
    (because developers can rely on the same public specifications, and can leverage
    the availability of the source code).
    Trying to simplify the concept, writing an ODF document is easy - and therefore
    the result is predictable - because developers can access the same specifications,
    which are easy to understand, and can rely on the same tools. Therefore, it will
    always be possible to open an ODF document (even a very old one).
    Of course, in order to protect users freedom, LibreOffice reads and writes - often
    perfectly - every flavour of office suite documents, from the legacy proprietary to
    the current pseudo-standard. These office formats, though, should be used only to
    exchange documents with other users, and not to store information.
    Use Free Fonts
    LibreOffice uses free fonts, which can be installed on any personal computer and
    distributed without any limitation, in order to ensure the visual consistency of
    documents between different hardware platforms and operating systems.
    A word processing document or a presentation created with LibreOffice can be
    opened by any other personal computer using LibreOffice, independently from the
    platform or the operating system. The two documents will look identical, because
    the fonts will be the same (while the software will take care of all other details,
    such as margins, alignments and line spacings).
    On the contrary, proprietary office suites use their own fonts as defaults for new
    documents. These proprietary fonts are commonly replaced with similar but
    metrically different fonts when opened by LibreOffice or any other software. This
    can give a visually different result from the original, which will generate an issue
    about interoperability (even if document contents are preserved).
    Summarizing, proprietary fonts create create an artificial compatibility issue
    between otherwise identical documents, as the perception of a visual difference
    will overcome the fact that all content is preserved.
    Combined with the ODF standard document format, free fonts will preserve not

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  5. White Paper
    only the contents but also the visual appearance, for the foreseeable future. There
    are several sources for free fonts, which offer a large selection able to fulfil every
    personal taste: Google Font, with over 630 font families; Open Font Library, with
    almost 400 font libraries; and Font Squirrel, with a very large selection.
    Summarizing, free fonts improve interoperability, and increase document fidelity.
    So, their deployment should become a habit for every personal computer user.
    Use Templates and Styles
    Templates and Styles are the last component of a perfectly interoperable
    document, because they help users in producing standard compliant XML tags to
    describe the different elements (like titles, subtitles, headings, paragraphs, headers
    and footers, page numbers, cell contents, etc.). A standard compliant XML tag will
    be extremely easy to reproduce by the receiving software, and this will result in a
    document which is identical to the original one.
    In fact, every element of the document has a tag such as or , which
    describes the function. In addition, there are other tags which describe the font and
    the size, and other attributes such as the character weight (regular, bold or italic)
    and the line alignment. If a user deletes a Template or a Style element, he will also
    delete the associated XML tag, which will be replaced by a generic tag.
    The lack of the right XML tag will represent a problem for the receiving software,
    which will try to interpret the generic tag instead of reproducing the right one. The
    result will be a document which might - or might not, according to the behaviour
    of the software - be different from the original.
    True document freedom can be achieved by using free software, open document
    standards, free fonts and standard document templates and styles. Users will have
    to learn a different process, in four easy steps, to improve the interoperability with
    other users, independently from the platform and the operating system
    A small effort, for a significant improvement, as the result will be true document
    freedom (and transparent interoperability).
    This white paper is licensed under a Creative Commons
    Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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