Spreadsheets come to ODF as version 1.2 wins approval

The latest version of the Open Document specification also adds RDF metadata

The ODF 1.2 specification, which aims to perfect the spreadsheet workflow, has been approved by the members of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

The move that will be formally announced to the organization's members later on Friday.

"ODF 1.2 is approved as on OASIS standard," said Chet Ensign, director of standards development and TC administration. The specification itself will be published next week, he added. While OASIS rules require that 49 members vote in favor of a standard, ODF 1.2 drew 76 positive votes, a strong sign of support for the spec, Ensign said.

The new Open Document Format (ODF) specification is a huge improvement over ODF 1.1 which was released in 2006, said Michiel Leenaars, director of the Internet Society Netherlands (ISOC). ISOC is the parent corporation for international organizations that strive to assure the open development, evolution and use of the Internet by developing standards and protocols.

The most important improvement to ODF 1.2 is the newly built spreadsheet support. The old format was buggy and had a lot of legacy problems. Therefore the new spreadsheet module was written from scratch. “A complete clean room implementation of the spreadsheet formula was built,” said Leenaars in a phone interview.

It is crucial that the specification can handle spreadsheets because they are critical for business use, Leenaars said. In the new ODF format everything considering spreadsheets “is defined and completely specified," he added.

Another important improvement in ODF 1.2 is the support for Resource Description Framework (RDF) metadata, a W3C standard model for data interchange on the Web. “To the layman you could say these are hyperlinks on steroids,” Leenaars explained. Instead of only being able to link to a URL, RDF allows users to link text in documents to other things like a V-Card or a calendar item. Companies can use this technology to structure their workflow. “The document becomes part of the Web and becomes smart,” Leenaars said. Documents that use this technology are called “smart documents”.

Organizations that work with Microsoft Office have to wait to take advantage of improvements to the specification. While other vendors have implemented ODF 1.2, Microsoft has been at version 1.1 since Office 2007 SP2. “Microsoft addicts will have to wait," said Leenaars, adding that Microsoft is actively working on support for ODF 1.2. The software giant will host the eighth ODF plugfest in Brussels where they are expected to announce ODF 1.2 support. The event is scheduled to take place April 26 and 27.

Leenaars emphasized that there are many more implementations on the market besides those from well-known vendors such as IBM. He mentioned AbiWord (best known from the OLPC), Calligra suite, Gnumeric, Google Docs, Softmaker Office, EuroOffice, WebODF and Zoho Office. “The new standard gives them the chance to compete on features, not on previous market share. And don't forget that we in the post-PC era don't have a single winning platform anymore -- and all these devices will have to read office files one way or another,” Leenaars added.

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