The Importance of Document Open Standards | Apertura Designs

The Importance of Document Open Standards

Today we're celebrating Document Freedom Day—a global event raising awareness of the importance of open standards for electronic document interchange and storage. If you've never considered the role that open and industry standards play in a business environment—and why the default file formats used by Microsoft Office and Google G Suite are an unwise choice in many scenarios—then read on.

Open standards matter.

It's no exaggeration to state that open standards power the modern world. Think about connecting your electrical appliances to wall power sockets, replacing the tyres on your car, or hiring tradespeople to perform building work. In all scenarios you never have to worry about limited availability of bespoke parts, an expensive dependence on a single supplier, or not being able to choose from a range of competitors for the best price and service. Similarly, technology designed to be vendor-neutral—and ratified by global standards bodies—empowers businesses with the widest possible choice of suppliers, costs, and ready availability.

In countless ways—during every hour of the day in your business and personal life—open standards are at work.

Business document interchange is becoming entirely digital.

The proliferation of affordable, powerful IT systems and cloud computing has lead to a growing number of organisations dispensing altogether with physical, paper-based processes. Documents are often created, modified, and distributed exclusively in digital format.

Proprietary technology keeps you locked into a single vendor—increasing cost and risk.

Cloud computing and entirely digital processes represent new fronts for familiar proprietary software vendors (including Microsoft and Google) to keep organisations locked into their products. The traditional revenue streams generated by forcing customers into costly, unnecessary desktop software upgrades every few years are being bolstered by "walled garden" cloud services (such as those tied to a Google account). The vendor's objective remains the same: to remove both customer choice, and the ability to freely exchange and collaborate on documents in a seamless, product-neutral fashion. It is through closely-guarded, non-industry-standard technology that proprietary vendors can continue extracting disproportionate fees from their customers, and keep them tied to a single company.

For businesses, using non-standardised document formats creates a long-term risk of being unable to access data and intellectual property. For example, if company documents are stored in Google's Sheets or Docs file formats—which are secret and completely non-standard—there is no recourse to alternatives if Google removes features from the service, increases its subscription costs, or shuts down the product altogether. Without the ability for other vendors to freely implement Google's technology using openly-documented industry standards, businesses effectively depend on nothing more than Google's goodwill for indefinite support. And for profit-motivated vendors, that goodwill lasts only as long as they can extract revenue from customers—after which point there is no incentive from their view to continue.

The risks associated with proprietary technology are tacitly exploited by vendors that deliberately remove support for older file format versions in their office software products. Customers are accordingly forced to undertake recurring software upgrades—simply to retain continued access to their own data. Customers often perceive the cost and effort of migrating to alternatives as being higher than simply sticking with the existing product—even in the face of considerable expense.

Businesses, education providers, libraries, and public institutions using non-standard document formats for data storage expose themselves to a very real risk of that data being inaccessible in years to come. This is far from being a distant concern. For example, within a comparatively short number of years, we have witnessed Microsoft removing support entirely for files created with the Microsoft Office versions released in the 1990s.

The tide is turning.

Open source business software has matured to the point where it has achieved equivalent or superior features, stability, and security compared with proprietary counterparts such as Microsoft Office.

A rapidly growing number of prominent organisations (such as the UK government) are recognising the compelling benefits of open standards. They are making their landmark decisions from the standpoints of feature richness, cost benefits through increased choice and competition—and the complete freedom from vendor lock-in empowered by the pervasive use of open document standards.

For organisations of every type and scale storing documents in digital format, using open standards (such as the OpenDocument Format found in LibreOffice) guarantees that files accessible today will still be accessible tomorrow—and decades into the future.

Using open standards also eliminates the productivity drain caused by differing versions of Microsoft Office file formats—with all of the missing features, error messages, and broken functionality this all-too-common scenario entails.

Take action.

Investigating superior office software alternatives needn't involve talking to a salesperson or signing up for a time-limited trial. LibreOffice—the word's leading standards-based business office software suite—can be downloaded and used for absolutely zero cost. Mission-critical scenarios—where absolute stability is required—are serviced by enterprised-hardened and professionally-supported versions of LibreOffice, such as Collabora Office.

If your organisation is already using Microsoft Office or Google G Suite, a professional open source services company can assist with a migration plan designed to help the transition to an entirely standards-based environment—with all of the compelling associated benefits.