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Why Is Google Not Supporting The Open Document Formats?

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Microsoft can’t be happier than this.

For ages I have been convincing people to switch from close source to open source, from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice. I have been telling people to ditch the controversial docx format and adopt .odt only to find myself in an embarrassing situation, thanks to Google.

I am a huge advocate of Android and Chome OS (I have converted my wife from Mac → Ubuntu → Chromebook). All this time when I was telling people the benefits of Android, Chromebooks and open source, what I did not realize was that this all will come back to bite me one day.

Today my wife forwarded me an email from her Nexus S asking if I could open the attachment as she could not. I replied, “where is it not opening – your Android phone or the Chromebook?” She replied, “Either.”

I looked at the email, it was a presentation from her friend in .odt format. A friend who we recently converted from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice.

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Since I was away from our main PCs, I had no other option but to tell her, “can you please re-send the file in docx fromat.”

This message was the most embarrasing message I ever sent to someone and unf I would blame Google. Why am I blaming Google? It’s a long story, which I will cut short.

Google Was A Supporter Of Open Document Formats
In 2005 OASIS submitted the ODF specifications to ISO/IEC JTC1 and in 2006 ODF became an ISO and IEC international standard. It was a vendor-neutral document format to ensure cross comatibility. Microsoft, instead of adhereing to ODF, proposed it’s own OOXML format to become an ISO standard and get it passed in a controversial (which included allegations of bribing and buying votes) manner. So, now instead of one, the world had two standards. Unlike ODF OOXML had a vendor lock, you had to use Microsoft’s products to use it. Over years we have seen how OOXML documents break when used with non-Microsoft products. So, if you want to use OOXML, you have to buy Microsoft products.

Google was one of the supporters of ODF and it was expected that it will fully support ODF formats. Let’s see how is Google supporting ODF across its products including Android, Chrome OS and Google Docs (the direct competitor to Microsoft Office).

Android
Google’s own Android doesn’t support any ODF files; if you get any odt file as email attachment, the email app or Gmail app can’t open the file. You can’t even download such files to open with other applications (but are there applications to edit ODF files? We will talk about that later).

QuickOffice
Yes, there are office suites for Android. Google recently acquited QuickOffice which I believe should give Google an edge over Microsoft Office for Mobile. Unfortunately, QuickOffice doesn’t support any ODF formats. It can’ open or edit ODF files. When I approached Google about QuickOffice’s support for ODF, a Google spokesperson told me that “We don’t have any specific plans to announce at this time.”

So, if you want people to be able to access your documets from their Android devices, the only option you have is to use the vendor-locked Microsoft’s docx fomats.

Chromebooks
My wife is an Android/Chomebooks user and just like Android Google Chrome OS also doesn’t support ODF files. When my wife tried to access that attachment from her Chromebook she was greeted by this message.

This file type is not supported. Please visit the Chrome Web Store to find an app that can open this type of file.

Bummer. Her only option was to download that file and then upload it again to Google Drive with conversion on and only she will be able to read it.

That brings us to Google Drive. Does it support ODF? No.

Google Docs/Drive doesn’t offer preview of ODF files; it doesn’t open ODF files. You will have to first convert it to the Google Docs format. Google Docs also doesn’t offer the export in all ODF formats.

What Works With Google Services?
Only Microsoft’s controversial OOXML formats. If you get a docx file, you will get a red carpet treatment in Google services. Android will show preview and allow you to read docx files, same is the case with Chrome OS and Google Drive.

If you uploaded a docx file without conversion Google Docs will show you a preview and also open and edit it. But if you upload an ODF file without conversion, Google Drive won’t offer any preview and will also refuse to open it. You will have to download it and then upload again with conversion on.

So, in a nutshell you are forced to use Microsoft’s OOXML formats if you are a Google user.

Why do I have problems with Microsoft’s format. One reason as I told earlier was the way it was approved as an standard. Second reason is OOXML has huge compatibility issues. These files are infamous for breaking the formatting if you access files from non-Microsoft products. Third reason is that I am an open source/Linux guy. I only use open source technologies and LibreOffice has some issues with OOXML formats. It throws input/output error when you access OOXML files. The second offices suite Calligra doesn’t even support OOXML formats. You can’t export .docx files from Calligra office suite.

So, you are an advocate of open standard and open formats there is no place for your ODF in Google land.

I tend to think it has more to do with demand and supply than Google’s desire to endorse Microsoft’s formats. But then Google is also pushing for WebM, WebP and HTML5 whereas there is no demand for them.

I am left with puzzling questions why is Google not supporting ODF and locking users into an incompatible and vendor-locked OOXML format? Will Google endorse open standards and Open Document Formats or its users will be forced to use Microsoft’s OOXML? I have dropped a message to Google’s Open Source Program Manager Chris DiBona on Google+ but have not heard anything back yet.

What do you say, should Google support ODF across services?

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Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

17 Comments

  1. old article. same problem. what gives Google?
    I posted a problem report with Google. (It must be broken, n’est-ce pas?)

  2. it’s crazy and ridiculous. odt should be supported.

  3. Google docs won’t even preview an arduino .ino, and that’s only a text file.

  4. Oddly enough, it does not seem to exist any decent application to read ODF formats. Regarding the question about Google, we should no longer become surprised by their disappointing actions.

  5. Google is really irritating me. They use to be a good company, but now its all about forcing Google on people. I want to be able to open my Docx file, or whatever file (at least in Office) in Google Docs. But I guess I will just have to use Drive as a storage and not an office.

  6. You can use the “Open Document Reader”, which is available in the Chrome Web Store.
    It’s the first viewer for OpenOffice and LibreOffice documents in the cloud!
    View your ODF documents wherever you are. Simple, fast, lightweight and well integrated.
    supports…
    - text documents, .odt
    - spreadsheets, .ods

    does NOT support…
    - presentations (hopefully coming later)
    - editing

    And it’s Open-Source. GPL :)

    This project is not affiliated with OpenOffice.org or similar.

  7. I share the sentiments in this article and wish ODF well / disappointment in Google.

    (Written on my Chrome book running Ubuntu / LibreOffice in a Crouton shell – which is brilliant)

    Come on Google please give ODF support!!!

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  13. Very disappointing…

    I’ve also managed to convert many users from MSOffice/doc into LibreOffice/odf and one of the arguments was that Google Docs/Drive supported the open document format.

    Very sad not having a clear feedback from Google on this issue.

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  16. Pingback: UK makes ODF its official documents format standard | Sebans

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