Document Freedom Day

This one is going to be short, I promise.

Tomorrow is going to the the "Document Freedom Day". I intend to celebrate it in Lisbon. If you want to celebrate it in Portugal you might be interested in checking about the events in Lisbon and Oporto. If you want to know about other countries, there's a list aggregating the events happening all over the world.

Document Freedom is an important matter. I've been a fan and user of LaTeX for more than 10 years. The main reason I liked it in the first place was the easyness of creating, writting an maintaining a document. I remember having a really old 386 laptop which only use was a LaTeX compiler, the vim editor and a DVI viewer. What starting as being "wow, this is a cool new way of doing stuff, without that boring formating crap and I'm really more produtive with it!", quickly started being a lot more things, as I stumbled upon more advantadges. See, LaTeX is an Open Format. Besides being available in any Operating System I stumbled upon, the fact that it is distributed under the terms of the LPPL, thus being free software, made it suitable for a lot of uses. Heck, I earned some real money doing translators and interpreters of, or using, LaTeX. The beauty of it was that, since it was open, anybody could read, alter, interpret or otherwise manipulate a TeX document. I was happy, but the format never was really adopted but in some specific cases or scenarios, and in the academic world (specially Mathmatics, since LaTeX has the most powerful - in my oppinion at least - way of representing math formulas). On one hand, LaTeX is only suitable to produce word processing documents, formulas or presentations. Office suites give you that, and also spreadsheets and charts. On the other hand, even if fully documented, LaTeX (and TeX) aren't standards.

I heard for the first time about ODF in 2002. Of course I knew that there were concurrent formats to those of Microsoft Office, but as soon as I heard about ODF I became more happy. No, I wasn't intending to be a ODF user. I still do my documents in LaTeX, even today. But this was - finaly - a document format, open as (La)TeX, but an "office suite format", meaning that it would also cover spreadsheets and charts. The cherry on the top of the cake, those making ODF happen wanted it to be an Open Standard. Great! I was not the only one - of course - understanding the power and importance of an Open Standard for documents. Documents in an open format - specially if regulated by a standards body, warrants you long-term access to data without legal or technical barriers. In 2004 the European Union understood its importance, and demanded from the existing vendors the existence of a document standard. The ODF work was already being done, and in 2005 ODF became an OASIS standard, a step into 2006 where it became an ISO standard. In that same year I attended to XTech '06, where I met Donna that spoke about ODF, Our Document Future. It was a great presentation in many ways: The talked about the importance of digital preservation, how can we do it, and why ODF was the best choice. She then talked about the massive adoption that ODF was already having in Australia, with the Digital Preservation front efforts. That was just the beggining: Italy adopted ODF in 2007, the same year that saw ODF 1.1 as an ISO standard (1.2 should be ready in summer 2009), and nowadays ODF is being considered and already adopted, in some cames more massively than in others, in countries like Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, France, Norway, Japan, Germany and Malaysia.

But Donna also told in her 2006's presentation that the future would bring us dark clouds in our sunshining scenario: Microsoft and OOXML. She was right. See, Microsoft has no commercial interest of adopting ODF (or any standard, for the matter). Yet, with all political pressure, it is mandatory that they support a standard... So they decided to create their own, which was aprooved as an ECMA standard in December 2006 and is now in the process of trying its aprooval as an ISO standard. Microsoft doesn't really support ODF (despite their trolls saying "but we pay for the development of converters!"): if they wanted to support the ODF standard, even if not their format of choice, ODF would be integrated in a stock instalation of their Office Suite. Also, if you considered that they were never interested in contributing into making ODF a better standard (which would be the natural action of a party interested in the field) that would serve for their technical purposes, you can't really think nor expect people to believe that Microsoft was really interested in a standard. But OOXML is worse than that: it isn't open (thus, even if it turns into a standard it will never be an open standard), is encumbered with software patents, while supposedly being a XML format (like ODF) has in its specs examples that show invalid XML, and has an incomplete specification.

I could go on and on about all the process and steps that Microsoft made this last couple of years to make OOXML a standard, refering to the way they admitedly bought votes and comitees, how issues were handled and so far, but I don't think that's useful. Last October I was invited to be the chair to a debate about ODF and OOXML. Not even one of the dozens of entities that supposedly support OOXML in Portugal were available to attend. The excuse of Microsoft, for instance, was that "during the aproval process there were made personal acusations to Microsoft workers in newspapers and blogs, so we don't have conditions in participating". This same Microsoft employee writes frequently in several blogs whenever the issue arises. But what really made me stop writting much about the issue was the fact that... it's a war I can't win, and that pisses me off. Everytime someone talks about the issue, dozens of Microsoft-payed people (they admited it) go to the blogs and flood them with lies, circular references, and anti-IBM or anti-SUN messages. They have the means and the money to do that, I don't. But I still have the truth with me, and tomorrow I'll show it. Because the world doesn't need to be controled by some corporation. The world needs Document Freedom.