My Family Photos – and ODF

I was staying with my parents a few years ago, and looking through a shoe box of old family photos. It was great, I was really enjoying them – until it occurred to me most of the photos were singletons. That is, they were the only copies. On earth. And of at least one individual from my family’s past, there were only two or three photographs in existence. Yipes.

A shoe box, I thought. How archaic, right? What if there were a flood, or heaven forbid, a fire? These are photographs I want to share with my family, and to pass along for generations. I want my children to know their history. And their children and their children.

So I did what any good son would do, I convinced my parents to let me abscond with the box, I returned home, and I scanned the photos (and returned the box).

And then the scanned photos were sitting on my hard drive. On my laptop. In my kitchen (that’s where my laptop lives).

Given what daily happens in my kitchen, that was probably less safe than a shoebox. So much for archaic. Strike one.

So I made a few DVD’s. And distributed them around my house, and gave some to other family members. Suffice it to say, most non-professional system administrators are non-professional for a reason – most of the DVD’s were lost. Strike two.

But good news, someone bright once said the network is the computer – I decided a while back to upload them to my on-line photo service. If you’re going to watch a shoe box, you may as well hire someone who’s watching other people’s shoe boxes, and may in fact be the best in the world at such a task.

And then I thought…

How do I guarantee the service will be around, or that I’ll be able to render the images I’ve stored there – not just in a year, but in five or fifty? What if the images outlive the technology?

And with that as a backdrop, now you understand at least one real world motivation behind something called the Open Document Format.

Imagine you’re a legislator that writes a law, or a doctor that drafts a patient’s record, or a student that writes a novel. And that five years or fifty years from now, you want to return to review your documents. Except the vendor that created the application used to draft those documents, the company that created the word processor, has either gone out of business, or decided to charge you $10,000 for a version capable of reading old file formats. Either scenario makes the point: Information always outlives technology.

What do you do?

First, you grumble. After all, the information you created is your information – not the vendor’s. Just like your family photos, the last thing you’d want is a camera company demanding payment before you could see your photos. And that’s the danger created by applications without open file formats. Remember, information outlives technology.

That’s why we, alongside some of the industry’s most important technology companies, and a bevy of governments and agencies around the world, created something called the Open Document Format (known affectionately as ‘ODF’). ODF defines an open format for document based information that’s independent of the applications used to create documents stored in ODF.

Which is a fancy way of saying if you write a law or a medical history or a regulatory filing in a word processor that supports ODF today, and need to gain access to it at any point in the future, you’ll have the freedom to do so on your terms. Without being held up by an application provider. ODF is a true open standard, adopted and implemented by a diversity of vendors (from IBM and Sun, to Google, Red Hat and now even Microsoft), and embraced by an amazing spectrum of the planet. And it’s royalty free.

Durability of information and file formats is exceptionally important to institutions or businesses with document retention policies that extend beyond the useful life of the software (and employees) creating the documents – and ensures the availability of information well into the future. The same applies to the photographs in the shoebox – as the CIO of my home, I want the images to outlive me.

And just in case you missed the menu item, we’re working with Google to ensure interoperability between Google’s office documents and OpenOffice documents – leveraging ODF as an exchange mechanism. Any document created in Google’s office can be trivially exported to (and soon imported from) OpenOffice (see the screenshot). Together, the two products allow businesses and individuals to preserve access, across the globe and across generations, for laws, legal contracts, patient records, diaries and strategic plans. Along with spreadsheets and presentations.

Finally, for those new to OpenOffice, it’s a free office productivity suite that will forever be free – to corporations and end users alike. As best we can count, we’ve distributed hundreds of millions of copies across the world (download here). And now that Microsoft has announced support for the Open Document Format, users can feel comfortable that OpenOffice can be added to any environment, home or office, not just across the developing world, but the developed. In a few weeks, you’ll be able to download an ODF plug-in here, which will enable Microsoft Word, by default, to save to/read from ODF. Once installed, you’ll see this in Word’s Options panel:

(I’ll provide a pointer when the plug-in is ready.)

From then on, ODF becomes your default format. Whether you’re an oil company or a high school student – ODF will enable seamless interoperability between open source and closed source environments – for as long as the standard, not the technology or product, exists.

From a corporate perspective, this also allows a very natural migration to occur across large institutions – front office staff might stay on Microsoft Word, but the rest of the organization can move to an interoperable alternative (say, Google’s word processor or OpenOffice – or both). Affordability and interoperability are a good thing for the internet – and for the successive generations we expect to use it.


Filed under General

35 responses to “My Family Photos – and ODF

  1. AL

    This is great news. Really hope that few years down the road, all applications shipped will have this format set by default.

  2. Nice logic Jonathan.
    Makes the point with good analogies.
    I wonder if this will be understood by the pointy headed bosses?
    I’ll let you know!

  3. Krish

    Ok. So I can still use MS Word knowing that if and when I don’t/can’t use MS Word anymore, there will always be offerings from Sun/Google/IBM et al. that will have an “Import MS Word” filter. Which means that I don’t have to use today.
    BTW why name an office app after its website? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  4. Jonathan, my really brother in Web, that do you think about “Semantic 7 levels model of Web-2”? And about the place of ODF there?

  5. thanks Jonathan,
    My son recently asked to use one of my computers with PowerPoint on it for a school presentation. since he doesn’t have an account on my work computers, I installed open office on his PC instead. He complained he couldn’t set an image to the background, but by the time I figured out the technique (READ THE MANUAL!) and went to tell him , he’d already figured it out for himself and was back to playing games..
    It lacks just a little of the “slickness” of the expensive commercial version, but I REALLY like the Open Office price!

  6. Peter Firmstone

    Simply Brilliant, I can’t wait to install the plugin for those people in our organisation who have invested much of their time learning Microsoft Office and are unwilling or afraid to try anything else. Whilst not free from computer ignorance, they will be free to share information without forcing others to adopt their proprietry formats.
    The best way to show them; on a fresh copy of Office 2007 😉

  7. You talk about family photos, when you should really talk about how seriously Sun takes security. Recent Solaris 10 remote root telnet exploit show how bad security culture Sun has. I wonder if even Microsoft now has better culture.

  8. Anantha

    I think you’re fixating now, really. There are two types of standards; one that an industry consortium develops and follows and one that is used by the dominant player in a market place/segment. Whether you like it or not MS Office owns the space and to their credit have migrated to an XML based format that they’ve published and made available royalty free. Why not build an OpenOffice plugin for the MS Office format? You’ll make OpenOffice far more acceptable and used in the market place if you make it generate documents that are easily exchanged with MS Office. After all documents are all about exchanging ideas & information, right? This is the exact type of distraction (still thinking that desktop wars are yet to be fought) that Sun doesn’t need. You own the datacenter, please continue to execute in your space and it’ll line (y)our pockets with $$s. IBM and Corel fought the MS Office war and have wounds to prove, please don’t make the same mistake. You’ve a good thing going with the new product line, tons of money to be made without worrying about ODF & OpenOffice.

  9. Fionn

    In Ireland we have an enormous document called the Book of Kells, which was preserved in Peat Bog for hundreds of years. So there is another way to store your old documents. Unfortunately it was encrypted in Latin – which is an out-dated technology and the experts needed to convert it cost a lot. 🙂

  10. ig

    It’s a big puzzle to solve, and this is a big piece of it. Some people say that the Microsoft monopoly is unbreakable and will continue to last for decades. What they seem to forget is that empires crumble from the edges inward. It’s not as if we’re going to wake up one day and suddenly see Windows lose its market share lead on the mainstream desktop (as nice as that would be). Little pieces, one by one, are falling into place. From document formats free of lock-in to open source operating systems to Exchange-killer groupware platforms, every little piece matters. Every little piece is one more bit of your digital destiny that you (or at least your own IT department) controls.One day, when the only thing that you don’t have free and open control over is your desktop operating system, it’ll become obvious that it’s time to knock over that last big obstacle.

  11. jonathon
    great post. hopefully ODF is safe from the hacks
    that ruined the promise of java’s “write once”
    architecture by hijacking an industry “standard.”

  12. Just a comment about the scenario you use to lead up to your point.
    There is an HP software package released years ago called jet suite. However nowhere (almost) can you find an actual working copy of the jet viewer. I had a customer that emailed me a series of files in the .jsd format. Luckily i had a backup copy from way back of a the now extinct program, and was able to help them. So yes I definitely agree open format is the way to go!

  13. Paul Kasper

    o.k., we at least have to see one baby picture. 🙂
    Great writeup.

  14. Justy

    This blog entry was appreciated. (The Solaris security issue is going to be patched. That shouldn’t be the topic here.)

    Jonathan, when talking with colleagues about ODF, there’s a perception that the format is done solely by Sun Microsystems. Not true as we know. But it’s something for your marketeers to make more obvious to the uneducated masses.

    “OpenDocument or ODF, short for the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications” is maintained by the ODF Alliance @

    Sun is monetizing by selling StarOffice, the commercial version of As a shareholder and end user, I’m very glad to see Sun continue their efforts there. (Obviously, that software doesn’t generate revenue akin to Sun’s hardware sales, but it’s still highly relevant to your overall business strategies.) I love that Sun is leading the pack among M$ Office competitors, including Corel and IBM whom are now adopting ODF in their own products. That is impressive. Sun is a leader… not a follower. And that will continue to transform Sun into $un. 🙂

    The fact that Sun is backing numerous open standards and has more open source code in the public domain than any other company in history is impressive and appreciated*. Thank you Jonathan (and Sun)! With an emerging global market, NOW is the time to break closed formats and continue innovation (via open source/open formats) with the end users/developers/communities. ODF has been long overdue. (IMHO, I believe it’s better than M$’s OpenXML format. See Office Open XML Fact Sheet via the ODF Alliance site. ODF and OpenXML does beg a Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD comparison, tho.)

    *Yeah, I’m passionate about this.

  15. Gil

    The application is nice but I think it comes in third in importance. My guess is that #1 would be the OS (Gates-Forbes #1), #2 would be Database (Ellison-Forbes #9) then the applications 3RD. I think Sun is doing fantastic job in the OS with Solaris 10, applications such as the ODF are positive moves but Sun has been weak in the all important Database market and I don’t think the window will stay open that long especially if Yahoo, Google, Ebay,, Amazon and the likes decides to buy and service their own PostgreSQL type database. Greenplum’s technology is fast but it doesn’t have the economies of scale and Sun would do well to show more aggression in this area…MySQL, EnterpriseDB, Sybase etc…What is the Internet other than a big Database running on an OS with applications for the customer. Good luck in coming years, I’m a big fan.

  16. Sean

    As a CEO of this large company, Sun, you have of course long term plans, strategic ones even. Such plans decide a company’s fate. My curiosity notes of the ‘FY08 Strategic Plan’ within the screenshot. Stored on a third party’s storage ?

    Can one be willing to have such documents stored with a third party ?

    Just being curious 😉

  17. Back in 2001, Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell discussed the issue of orphaned data as a result of format & application evolution.
    His team is working on MyLifeBits, a project that aims to digitize and store *all* the information one interacts with in her/his daily life.

    Bell states: “The most serious impediment to a lasting archive is the evolution of media, platforms, formats, and the applications that create them. Unique, proprietary, and constantly evolving data formats such as Acrobat-4, MPEG-4, Oracle 8, Quicken 2001, Real G2, and Word 2000 suggest or even guarantee obsolescence.”

    Open formats are definitely a way to guard against data being orphaned with age.

    PS: The plug-in sounds like a great idea

  18. Tom

    I’m going to add an experience slightly off topic but it goes back to what you said about technology and vendors charging you high prices for something that should be trivial and supported, you’d think.
    As you know, Windows XP is 32 bit (yes there is a 64 bit version but it’s too buggy and not enough drivers etc). I bought an HP Laptop about a year ago with a 64 bit CPU thinking, when the next Windows comes out, I’ll be able to run 64 bit. Well it came out and I got Vista and installed it. The install crashed (not very good if you ask me). I went ahead and did a format and a reinstall (after getting my files off). So I paid $200 for the Ultimate version of Windows. So full format/reinstall. I have no drivers! Well some, but sound does not work, my dialup modem, nor the memory flash card reader. Not to mention performance was not that good. Vista is a HOG.
    I went to HP’s website thinking I would find drivers. HP says there will be no Vista drivers for this laptop and that I must buy a Vista capable PC. Ok, so I might buy one, but it won’t be an HP after that experience. Here is to giving to the bottom line of a competitor, nor will I recommend an HP product. At work I am an Oracle DBA and we were looking at HP systems and others. Sun looked better than HP, but after this experience I pushed for something other than HP and Sun on Opteron won out. I can’t believe HP wants to extor money to contribute to the bottom line. This mentality will cause landfills to fill and customers to leave. So I stuck with Vista hoping maybe HP will change their tune, in the meantime I put in a bigger hard drive because Vista was such a Hog. Upon putting it in and copying files over, what do I get? You got it… ACTIVATION REQUIREMENT! So I did that then threw in some more ram to get it to 1.5GB and Activation AGAIN! But this time I had to call a guy in India and sit there for a half hour while we read number back and forth as I typed them in (not good communication). I just said forget it, formatted it, and put on Solaris x64 and it runs beautifully along with Open Office. It also performs much better and takes up less space. Sure, there are apps I cannot run, but for using it as a portable Oracle Database Demo machine, it works phenomenally well. I could not be happier.
    Jonathan, as long as you take care of users and don’t sacrifice long term gains for sort term profits, then Sun will definitely return to be the most signifigant company along with Apple while Dell, HP, and Microsoft sink to the wayside. I seriously think Vista and Activiation is going to take a beating at the hands of Apple on the next release of OSX (Leopard). Sun can do the same thing with Solaris in the Server space.
    Keep up the good work and sorry to rant on your blog! Just thought your comment about the 10k to be compatible really hit a nerve with me : )

  19. Tom

    This comment is to Anantha above.
    Microsoft actually had a lwsuit filed against them for hidden API’s that make their Open Standards “not so open”

  20. Jonathan, as a person who has used and followed OpenOffice development for years I have also wondered what happened to the OpenOffice/StarOfiice relationship.
    As I remember way back when Sun and the Open Source folks worked as a team to produce early versions of StarOffice as an Open Source project. At some point there was a divergence between Sun and the OpenOffice folks– What happened?
    From what I see on the Sun web site Star Office is now a commercial only product…

  21. Anonymous User

    Have you considered making ODF support for Word part of I mean that during OOo install if MS Word is detected, ask whether user wants to install ODF support and whether ODF should be set as default also for Word?

  22. Jonathan:
    I am trying to contact you regarding your blog. I am putting together a Blogging For Business Summit, and I would love to send you an invitation to participate in this conference. What is the best way to contact you regarding this inquiry?
    Blake Landau
    Conference Director
    Growth Division-IQPC

  23. Yes, I agree with the importance of interoperative functionality in the ‘now’-future. What I am hoping is that SUN might also remain in the forefront of the curriculum design movement. Kids today are all about ‘TEXTING’ and that is about ‘square-one’ for where to start working.
    Thank you

  24. Actually, the answer is simpler. Print out duplicates of the photos and store them in locations geographically diverse.
    We still have a problem with dying digital media. DVDs, hard disks and thumb drives have shelf life. Photos outlive digital media. People aren’t bothered to do 5-yearly backups.

  25. Mark Begemann

    Agree wholeheartedly with your post but would like to respectfully add some suggestions. I don’t think a lot of end users will go through the task of changing their default document format (or even know what that means) without additional incentive. The killer document app should be able to sync with Google docs (manually or automatically.) OpenOffice could update Google Docs whenever a network connection is available and use a local copy for quicker access/editing or when a connection is not available. As long as the functionality of OpenOffice stays a step or two ahead of Google Docs (which should easily be possible given browser limitations which will remain for some time) the incentive is still there to use OO when it is available, even when network access becomes ubiquitous. I’m so tired of manually copying docs to my many document folders (corporate network, Pocket PC, Blackberry, home comp, office comp, laptop, etc.) and frequently lack the latest copy even when one is available “wherever” I happen to be. A functional, automatic version history is key to the killer document app, too.

  26. Hi Jon. Nice post, but you don’t make any cash from ODF. As a shareholder neither do I. Yesterday Rackable Systems was awarded a patent for DC power to server racks. Since they are currenctly valued at under $500k how about buying them and adding some genuine value to SUNW shares? They seem to own an enviable pantent portfolio.

  27. Gareth Randall

    I disagree Kevin – Sun will make cash from ODF when it becomes the standard and Sun becomes the first place everyone looks to for custom implementation work and consultancy.
    Did you complain when Sun gave Java away for free? What about the millions Sun now makes from developing JRE’s for mobile phones, mobile devices, and all the other high-margin work Java brings in?
    If Sun hadn’t given Java away, the mass-market for it would never have formed, so Java wouldn’t be making the money it is today.
    This is long-term thinking – a dollar tomorrow, rather than a cent today.

  28. Mihai

    That plug-in is a nice ideea 🙂 We already pushed OpenOffice into organization; to make people confortable to adopt it, we had to set it to save documents by default in Microsoft formats; transition was seamless, no complains! Will reverse work? Interesting bet!

  29. I have two questions in addition to a comment. First the comment: I think Sun’s commitment to open standards for data types, and recognition of the document as the fundamental data type of business, is admirable.
    Now for the questions:
    1) If Sun is so commited to open standards, why does Jonathan post company video to a site where sharing (and especially embedding, but also downloading) that video in other locations on the internet is impossible? and
    2) Does Sun at least recognize audio and video as datatypes that are driving a significant evolution of applications for ICT?

  30. A bit off-topic…
    Sun StorageTek has a big hole in its offerings, no product which goes head to head against RamSan’s SSD offerings. Wouldn’t some customers like to store some of their hot files in battery backed RAM or go completely flash with BitMicro’s offerings?

  31. Hi Johnathan,
    This is the best marketing I’ve seen for ODF and OOo, period. Please change the download link to point to so that when people link to this blog post they won’t get old versions of openoffice. Also pass a note to the “why” group that messages like this blog post will more people than what they have now.

  32. Gareth, you make a fair point about a dollar tomorrow versus a cent today, but from the outside it looks like IBM, Red Hat, Oracle and BEA Systems are winning more sales/service income from Java than Sun does? (I’m thing about WebSphere, JBoss, WebLogic, etc). I hope ODF and other Sun-sponsored technologies don’t go the same way because I really want to see Sun succeed in a profit sense as well as a Doing-The-Right-Thing sense.

  33. Jonathan, I have unofficially translated this blog in Thai. Hope that can help promoting OpenDocument in Thailand. It’s available here.

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