Document formats (was: To the keepers of the holy grail of Open Source)

Rick Moen rick at
Tue Jan 23 19:23:44 UTC 2001

begin Bryan George quotation:

> I'm just busting your chops a little, really... :)  You don't have to
> convince me of the need for a low-cost, accessible, open way to pass
> docs around - I just got a little tweaked with the "Real men use ASCII"
> crud. %b

There _was_ a time (up to circa 1988) when Microsoft used document
formats that could reasonably be used as a gemerally-readable format
after only a modest amount of reverse-engineering by other parties.  Of
late, unfortunately, especially with the default "fast save" option,
their formats often cannot be deterministically read by anything but the
latest Win32 versions of Microsoft's products.  (And I hear horror
stories even there.)

In any event, I've been tempted to start an information-clearinghouse
site listing the leading formats for various types of data files, the
major drawbacks of each (including vendor lock-in), the state
(functionality, stability, encumbrances if any, coverage among
proprietary packages) of the leading "open" document format, and details
of possible migration stategies.  The aim would be to let people know 
what their options are, if they attempt to move data out of the
proprietary formats where they're held hostage.

I fear that the task is a bit ambitious, and am trying to figure out how
to start with something small yet useful, and aim to build up.

Also, some vital compatibility information will probably be available
only from testing proprietary applications and OSes, which I don't have.
So, this would have to involve participation from users of that

Additionally, I'm a little unclear on what is going to make a format
recommendable in the real world.  It seems debatable.  E.g., TeX  / DVI 
is an ideal, stable, robust format for publishing (modulo some reported
weakness in handling graphics), but reportedly has poor desktop-OS
software support.   

These issues may become clearer if/when I try to prototype a site.

Cheers,                                      "Reality is not optional."
Rick Moen                                             -- Thomas Sowell
rick at

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