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Editor's Note: The Importance of Open File Formats, Redux

Implementing Open File Formats in Applixware Office for Linux

  • June 22, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on the importance of open file formats and why Microsoft was essentially evil for trying to patent a streaming-media file format. (You can find it at http://www.linuxplanet.com/linuxplanet/reviews/1934/1/.)

I received a lot of responses to the article, almost all positive (and only one calling me a Communist!)

Perhaps the most important response, however, came from Vistasource President Bernie Thompson, reporting on his company's commitment to open file formats.

As you'll recall, Applixware Office is one of the oldest and newest software products in the Linux market. I remember seeing demos of Applixware Office on the Sun Solaris platform when I attended X Window trade shows in the early 1990s. Over the years Applixware Office was continually improved, and it's now available on the Linux platform, as a formidable competitor to StarOffice and the other many Linux office suites. Vistasource is an Applixware subsidiary that markets Applix products to the Linux community.

Given Applixware's experience in competing with Microsoft over the years, you'd expect the company to have an enlightened attitude re: open file formats--which is exactly the case, according to Thompson. "As a company that produces office applications, we've been fighting this battle for years," Thompson said to me in a follow-up phone conversation. "To compete in this market, we need to give our users the ability to import and export Office documents. To date, Microsoft has not documented its file formats."

As a result, the file formats used in Applixware Office for Linux are open; you can find them at http://www.vistasource.com/products/axware/fileformats. While technically they are not Open Source formats, the Applixware specs are available to anyone wanting to create filters.

There are some limits to Vistasource's commitment to open file formats, however. When speaking of the file formats used in the KDE and GNOME office suites, Thompson admitted that his company was not yet fully committed to support both.

"We are definitely heading in the direction of supporting XML with certain tags," he said of the GNOME Office file format, which will also be used heavily by Microsoft in the future. "We want to get to the point where we're all using XML file formats. But that format has to come from the industry as a whole. I can't say that we're very far in this process."

Having said that, Thompson was quick to add that Vistasource was willing to work with the Open Souce community on cross-support of open file formats, sending along the name of Vistasource's Open File Format Czar, Joe Dunbar (joe@vistasource.com) as a community contact.

Now, it makes good business sense for Thompson and Vistasource to work with the Open Source community on open file formats: using file formats as a competitive tool basically gives corporations license to limit the choice of users, which is anathema to the Open Source community. Let's hope that the rest of the software world picks up on that good sense.

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