Comment sent to Massachusetts on open document formats

Well I did email a comment to the state of Massachusetts to support their latest draft on document formats that has nominated OpenDoc (the format that v2 will use), and I’ve put into this blog so people can see why I personally think it is important.

Think of it as taking a more long term view..

Read on for what I have to say..

Corrections made after sending the email are in italics

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Subject: Comment on MA's courageous choice of open standards
From: Chris Samuel - chris (at)
To: Standards (at)
Date: Today 23:31:58

Greetings from Australia!

I know that it’s probably not my place to comment that I’m not even in your country, let alone your state, but I’d just like to offer some feedback from a different viewpoint about the importance of open standards.

As well as having been working with UNIX systems since the late 80’s I’ve had a keen interest in history and archaeology since I was a child, and I’ve come to learn that the real treasure of those fields is not in the gold objects or the jewels, but in the documents that have managed to survive to the present day. There are wonderful finds such as huge numbers of Roman letters preserved at Vindolanda on Hadrians Wall in Scotland, the bark letters that survived from medieval Novogorod in Russia and Bactrian documents from Afghanistan.

There is also the famous Domesday Book from the UK, created in 1086 and still used as a source as how the country was structured at that time and before the Norman Conquest.

In 1986 the UK’s state broadcaster, the BBC, decided that a great way to celebrate its 900th anniversary would be to create a new interactive Domesday Book using computers, so they hired a company to create the system and sold them to schools.

Less than 15 years later a project had to be formed to try and figure out a way of recovering all the information from the disks as technology had marched on and the information was effectively unreadable. It took them three years to recover the data, and that was *with* enlisting people from the original team who created it!

I feel that locking government documents away in proprietary formats is equivalent to putting a timed self-destruct mechanism on them, it is highly unlikely that within a decade you would still be able to open them in the software of that time.

With open standards for documents then anyone with sufficient ability can implement a reader or converter to a different format, all the information that they require should be available to them without fear of legal action being taken against them.

We owe it to our descendants to leave them the documents that give them an insight into our times comparable to those we enjoy of previous ages. But if we don’t take those steps now to ensure that they at least can read our “handwriting” (if you will) then they will have a task similar to ours in deciphering the Inca’s khipu knots that we still cannot read.


 Chris Samuel  :  :  Melbourne, VIC

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