Business documents have to be stored for a period of at least six years, certain documents which are important for fiscal reasons even ten years. We already reported on this in the past. By IT standards such periods represent quite a long time. Over the last decades many data formats have ceased to exist together with the producers of the software on which these formats were based. But it is hardly possible from a financial point of few in particular for SMEs to store outdated and discarded software together with the corresponding operating systems and hardware for audit purposes.
In the long run only data formats which are not linked to any particular manufacturer can provide a solution to this problem. ODF (⇒ Wikipedia) is such a solution – and in addition it is an open source format for the storing of office documents. It was developed by the OASIS standardization organization and is to ensure that stored data can be accessed on a long-term basis using applications by several manufacturers. In March there was the foundation of an alliance by strong ODF supporters with the objective to “prompt authorities in the USA and worldwide to use software compatible with ODF”, as was expressed by Bob Sutor who is IBM vice president. This alliance unites heavyweights such as IBM, Oracle, Sun or Novell. In the meantime ODF has also been certified according to ISO standards (⇒ Wikipedia).
How important this subject matter is to governments is underligned by the fact that the US state of Massachusetts decided to store all official documents in ODF format starting from the year 2007. Also in Europe governments have spoken for ODF. In the meantime public pressure has reached such a level that even Microsoft agreed offering since yesterday a tool by which users of MS office can write and read ODF files. The tool is the result of the feedback by governments, said Microsoft. If Microsoft had not come up with this tool, they might probably sooner or later have lost some major public clients.
For small and medium-sized entities there is also a range of office software packages from the open source category available which are directly working with the ODF format. One such a software package is the OpenOffice office suite which does not cost anything.