In ages past if you created a carefully crafted document on a computer, the chances were that only someone with the same computer and the same software as you would be able to read it.
The story has not been that much different for many years. While software companies have adopted other file formats, it has remained a battle ground all the while. Microsoft have dominated the PC market for such a long time many people have been forced into using their Office product. Creating a Word document (.doc or .docx) or an Excel spreadsheet (.xls, or .xlsx) has become synonymous with creating documents and spreadsheets on a computer.
The Open Document Format has been around for a while now. It’s aim is to establish a set of cross platform file formats. So, you create a spreadsheet in Windows using your favourite application and can then easily share it with anyone else in the world, regardless which operating system they are using and what their favourite spreadsheet program is. In a bid to comply with European legislation, Microsoft have incorporated support into Office 2010. However, there is still a trend in the business world to rely heavily on Microsoft’s own file formats.
What has happened to change the status quo? Mobile devices. Tablets (and to a lesser extent smartphones) have really shaken the foundations of the computing world. Microsoft Windows based PCs are being outsold by Google Android and Apple iOS tablets and in significant numbers. Now more than ever platform independence has become a necessity.
Microsoft have announced they will be releasing Microsoft Office for Android and iOS devices in early 2013, but is this move too little too late? The beauty with the Open Document Format is that there are already capable suites of applications that handle all the same things that Microsoft Office can handle, but they are free. The cost of ownership is zero. Open Office and Libre Office are just two such application suites, which are free to install and use and allow you to share your content with anyone in the world.
That’s not the end of the story. With the rise of Google’s own suite of applications and Google Drive, it is very easy to create content on any of your devices and share that with anyone around the world too.
What does the future hold? I’d be rich if I knew that. However, from my perspective looking at the exciting changes being made on a daily basis and the furious battle in the tablet market for dominance, I would imagine ODF and similar standards will win in the end.
That can only be a good thing.