Archive for the ‘Jan 2008’ Category

If you are an OpenOffice.org user who  frequently accesses a   document, such as your research paper, your grading sheet or your  presentation,  you will surely find the Bookmarks Menu extension in OpenOffice.org useful.


The Bookmarks Menu works like the  Bookmarks tool (Favorites for Internet Explorer) in your web browser.  However,  it is capable of bookmarking a variety of entries : documents,  webpages, macros and shell commands from within OpenOffice.org. It is one of the most recently added extensions in the OpenOffice.org extensions repository .


Download Bookmarks Menu 0.3.2   from  http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/project/bookmarksmenu  


To install it, launch OpenOffice.org then  choose Tools > Extension Manager (Package Manager in older versions of OpenOffice.org). Select the //My Extensions// section, and press the Add button. Select the   BookmarksMenu-0.3.2.oxt package , and press OK. Then restart OpenOffice.org.


After launching OOo, select  Tools – Add-Ons – Bookmarks Menu  to execute the macro . You can click on  the help button of the dialog to access the documentation for the extension. Press OK. The   Bookmarks Menu is added to  the toolbar. 


When you click on the Bookmarks bar,   two  sub-menus appear: Bookmark This Document and Edit Bookmarks. Bookmark This Document   bookmarks the  document that is  currently open and saves its name on the Bookmarks bar.   This is similar to the  Recent Documents feature but has more to offer. It does not only bookmark documents, it also bookmarks macros, web pages and shell commands. It also allows you to sort the bookmarked items , which the Recent Documents option could not do.

To bookmark a document, first open the document.  Then choose “Bookmark This Document” on the toolbar.  


The  Edit Bookmarks submenu lets you add entries other than documents. Click on Edit Bookmarks under the Bookmarks Menu tool. Then click the  “New” button. Edit its elements on the opened dialog.  Enter the   “Label”, select the  “Type”,  enter the “URL” and “Arguments” if you need. Then click OK. 


You will find the entry under the Bookmarks tool in the toolbar.


Bookmarking shell commands   allows you to  send commands to external applications. For example, when you bookmark a web page, OpenOffice.org opens the default web browser and accesses the URL you bookmarked.


You can also export your shell commands and settings in the Edit Bookmarks menu, which can be helpful if you are using the Bookmarks menu extension on several machines.


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Democracy entails openness. In a democratic country, government documents should be open to public scrutiny and thus,  freely accessible  by anyone regardless of the person’s software choice.


Currently, many government agencies in this country still exchange, archive and   distribute information using proprietary file formats such as .doc. .docx, .xls, .ppt and others.  


Supposedly publicly-accessible documents such as information papers,  application forms , permits,  data sheets, annual reports, and other downloadable forms are still available exclusively in MS Word or MS Excel format, requiring users to download viewers or purchase proprietary software should they need to edit these documents for research or academic purposes.

Will the Philippine government ever adopt policies to endorse the use of Open Document Format (ODF) in document creation and exchange?   Currently, a handful of schools,  government agencies and private companies  have looked into its use. However,  the adoption of ODF should occur on   a national level.



What is ODF?

The OpenDocument format (ODF) is a file format for electronic office documents that was approved as an international standard (ISO 26300:2006) in May 2006.  It is used in  proprietary and non-proprietary software. Prominent office suites supporting OpenDocument format include IBM Lotus Notes 8 ,  OpenOffice.org, NeoOffice, StarOffice, Google Docs, and IBM Lotus Symphony.  Some of the most common filename extensions used for OpenDocument documents are:

.odt for word processing (text) documents

.ods for spreadsheets

.odp for presentations

.odg for graphics

.odf for formulae, mathematical equations


Why ODF?

ODF  is growing in popularity among governments due to its   benefits of access, choice, interoperability and cost savings. 


The availability of information to the general public is only one aspect of accessibility. Another aspect is the availability of information across agencies ,  across time and across computing technologies. ODF guarantees long-term access to data that governments need.  Documents should   be readable after several decades or centuries and accessible to citizens ,  without regard for the kind of software  they use now  or will use then.    Users will not have to upgrade their current application only so that they could read a document saved in a newer version of software. In addition, files saved in ODF can be accessible by majority of software- proprietary or non proprietary, and across different system platforms. That’s freedom of choice at work. 


Several applications that use ODF are also open source, and available at no cost.  Since no money is shelled out for licensing costs, government budget could be allocated to other needs.  Vendor lock-in is also prevented,  which typically leads to bribery and corruption among  decision makers in government.   


Openness is the most important aspect of the ODF.  As opposed to proprietary file formats, which are  protected by private companies under lock and key,  the source code for Open Document Format  is readily available and can be put under scrutiny. It is backed by standards groups, ISO and OASIS  and not controlled by any company with some  form of  interest.


ODF – a global perspective  


National, regional and state governments all over the world  have adopted Open Document format as the preferred standard  for the creation and exchange of  documents. Based on the ODF Annual report for 2007, twelve national, seven regional, and several local governments have now adopted pro-ODF policies, in addition to more than 50 government agencies. 


Government action on the adoption of ODF generally take the form of laws, executive decisions, interoperability frameworks, or policy statements.  


Five countries, including the Netherlands, South Africa, Malaysia, Norway, and Croatia – adopted plans requiring the use of ODF for document exchange between government agencies , with its constituents and other external entities.  Japan and Russia  adopted  procurement preferences for products adhering to open standards,  while Poland approved a national plan recommending the use of open, publicly-available IT standards. Consistent with the trend at the national level, three regional governments – Kerala (a state in southwestern India), Misiones (a province in northeast Argentina), and Paraná (a state in southern Brazil) – formally adopted policies requiring the use of ODF.


Five U.S. state legislatures considered proposals to require the use of an open format. These include California, Texas, New York, and Florida – as well as Minnesota.  
Even presidential hopeful  and  US Senator Obama endorses ODF as part of his campaign:”We have to use technology to open up our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to sunlight. As president, I’ll change that. I’ll put government data online in universally accessible formats”  


This makes me wonder -when will  the Philippine government ever  consider reaping the benefits of ODF?



Knowing is not enough; we must apply! (Goethe) 

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Just because a few countries in Asia have jumped onto the OOXML bandwagon does not mean that joining them is a good idea. 


The Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century brought about mass production,  increased productivity and  gas powered vehicles. One century later,  this is also blamed  for the the marked increase in the emission of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) .  Today, we realize that economic progress hardly makes up for the damage we caused our environment. 


Years ago, the cigarette smoking culture pervaded society.  Decades later, it is widely recognized as the number one cause of lung cancer.  For many, this discovery was too late.


What lesson have we learned from these? Just because it’s popular does not mean it’s right. 


Windows is still the most widely used operating system in this country and Microsoft Office is the most popular office suite. Almost everybody knows what .doc, .xls., .ppt stand for but how many people have heard of .odt , .ods, and. odi  ?


How about ODF and OOXML?




What’s the difference?


First, it must be made clear that both OpenDocument Format (“ODF”) and Office Open XML (“OOXML”) are XML-based formats.  As many critics point out, the main difference is in the level of “openness”.  Openness is important because an open, XML-based standard for displaying and storing data files allows many possibilities in terms of   data storage and document exchange among office applications (wordprocessing, spreadsheet, presentations, etc. ).


Below are some of the differences:


ODF is developed and maintained by several organizations and individuals using and  open process that protects against control by a single entity. OOXML is owned, maintained an controlled by a single organization- Microsoft. Thus, it is  less open in its development and maintenance, despite being submitted to a formal standards body. 


ODF is an ISO approved standard (ODF, ISO/IEC 26300, full name: OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications)   file format for electronic office documents, while OOXML  failed to be recognized as an ISO standard, mainly because it overlaps  the OpenDocument format .


ODF is an   openly available standard, published fully in a document that is freely available and easy to comprehend. This openness and availability is evidenced by the huge number of competing applications that use ODF. In contrast, OOXML is not  legally and practically as easy to implement  due to its  complexity, extraordinary length, technical omissions, and  dependence on a single vendor.


ODF is the only format that are not restricted  by intellectual property rights (IPR)  , as certified by the Software Freedom Law Center. On the other hand, many elements designed into the OOXML formats but left undefined in the OOXML specification require behaviors upon document files that only Microsoft Office applications can provide. This means that data is inaccessible  on applications other than Microsoft Office or those supporting OOXML.


Overall,  ODF  is revealed as sufficiently open while   OOXML shows relative weakness that have been the cause for concern in adoption as a global standard. 




Philippines votes “no”


OOXML  lost its initial bid for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, after failing to secure enough votes from participating countries in September.

The Philippines was one of the countries which voted “no” , with clarifications on the use of OOXML. The panel consisted of representatives from the DTI’s Bureau of Products and Standards and the National Computer Center. Personally, I agree with this decision. 


As a  result of this decision, Microsoft and industry body Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) have teamed up to drive the adoption of Office Open XML in the Philippines.  I trust that the panel will continue to make the right decision despite lobbying pressures as they get these much needed clarifications.

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