UK Open Document Plugfest Showcases Innovations on Document Collaboration

Gijs HilleniusThe ODF Plugfest that took place in London on December 8th and 9th showcased innovative ways to work with electronic documents. The most striking idea is the borrowing of techniques commonly used in software development, promising many news ways to create and collaborate on documents.

At the two-day workshop in London, the Berlin-based ODF expert Svante Schubert proposed to borrow techniques commonly used in software development, to manage revisions from many different sources. He suggests that only the changes made in a text be exchanged, instead of the much more cumbersome sending back and forth of an entire document. “Using files for collaborating on documents is a relic from the era of floppy discs,”, developer Schubert says. “It forces a recipient to read the entire document an try to understand what has been changed by others.”

The ODF developer expects that creating a document out of a sequence of standardized changes will innovate collaboration greatly. Users will be free to choose whichever text editing tool they prefer, and still be able to work together. Schubert is working with Patrick Durusau, Co-Chair of the ODF Technical Committee at the OASIS standards organization, on a paper that they presented at the 2014 International Workshop on Document Changes last September.


“Just imagine the business advantage of having a record of all the changes ever made to a document,” Schubert said, “and imagine working independently on different versions of a text to be merged later into a final version without conflicting the branches. You can have one user working from a basic text editor like Vi, and another using a full-blown office suite.”

In London, the software specialist met with resistance from the existing software solutions for creating documents, who fear having to overhaul their code. “If we can land a man on the moon, how come we can’t redo the way we write documents?” retorted Michiel Leenaars, one of the organizers of the plugfest. “If we don’t implement his solution, we’ll be tied to desktops office solutions for ever.”

Other innovations presented at the plugfest included new ways to test software used to implement Open Document Format (ODF). Jos van den Oever, an XML and ODF specialist working for the Dutch government introduced ODFAutoTests,  his new testing toolkit. And Dr. Steven Pemberton, of the national research institute for mathematics and computer science in the Netherlands, encouraged the use of RDFa and Xforms. The former helps to link related information and data, easing the retrieval of information, while the latter allows for rich interactivity with documents.

New standard

The current version of the standard (ODF 1.2) was published by OASIS over three years ago, but it was only this year that it was submitted to ISO/IEC. It is expected that the standard will pass quickly, since the feedback from the national standards bodies is mostly positive, explained Andras Timar, a Hungarian ODF specialist involved in the standardization committee. “There were about ten comments, most of which are easy to respond to. There are two that concern change tracking, and we expect to resolve this within a few months,” he said.

More information:

Draft paper on document collaboration by Schubert and Durusau

UK Open Document Plugfest Showcases Innovations on Document Collaboration was authored by Gijs Hillenius and published in Open Source Observatory. It is reprinted by Open Health News with permission. The original post can be found here.