OpenDocument and OpenReader: complementary steps toward freeing data

by Andy Oram

In recent weeks the state of Massachusetts announced, to cheers on one
side and alarm on the other, that it would start writing all new
memos, spreadsheets, and other documents in the OpenDocument format
standardized by

Now there's a spiffy new web site by the
activists, promoting this format for ebooks.

These are two sides to the same coin, one that buys us freedom in
document formats. Getting your document's content accurate and
readable is enough of a hassle without worrying about whether a change
in computer platform or tools will render the document ugly--or worse
yet, gibberish.

OpenDocument is an input format, OpenReader an output format.
OpenDocument provides freedom for writers, ensuring that they can
switch production tools as better ones become available. It also
promotes compatibility over time (less chance that upgrades will render
documents unreadable) and protection against bugs.
are among the projects adopting the format. If a number of states and
countries follow Massachusetts's lead (which seems likely) Microsoft
may give up its current carping and jump on board.

Within Massachusetts, opponents of the move to OpenDocument are
reduced to about the weakest argument they can find--saying that
conversion would cost a lot of money. The whole impetus behind the
OpenDocument movement is to free us from such short-term thinking.

As for OpenReader, it promotes freedom for readers. It means that for
the first time there's a feature-rich, multimedia format that allows
publishers to offer ebooks in confidence and that multiple device
manufacturers can support.

The Web offers much room for innovation, but it tends to be weak in
certain areas, particularly for large documents. It doesn't let you
bookmark arbitrary points in documents, for instance. (XPath would
support that, but Web users don't have access to tools using XPath.)
OpenReader addresses such needs.

As a proof of concept,
is converting its free-software ThoutReader browser to OpenReader. So
books will hopefully start appearing in that format in 2006.

Probably there will always be elements of communication that are
non-standard. Standards bodies can't keep up with innovation; they
usually must follow it. Free software implementations will promote
innovation without limiting access. So OpenDocument and OpenReader,
along with their free implementations, are foundations for future
document freedom.


2005-12-22 10:29:36
Is OpenReader a derivation of OpenDocument?

More thoughts about this post here:

Scott Mace

2005-12-22 11:52:01
Pertaining to the question: the answer is no--there is no technical relationship between OpenReader and OpenDocument. It can indeed be confusing when so many "Opens" run around. I tried to make it clear in the article that OpenReader is a viewing, output format and OpenDocument a source or creation format.

The short article you pointed to is interesting and a good reminder that it matters what standards body defines a standard. Some have rules that keep things more open than others. These rules can range from whether companies are allowed to submit standards encumbered by patents, to whether the standards are published at high cost that makes them hard for the public to examine.