National Archives readies move to OpenDocument

The Digital Preservation team at the National Archives is looking to migrate its Xena preservation software to the new OpenDocument format with the next release of the software, in turn being the first Australian government agency to do so.

The National Archives has been involved in drafting the Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) format, working closely with the OASIS standards group in submitting code for the new file format.

OpenDocument is a specification for standardizing documents based on an Extensible Markup Language (XML) file format. It covers the features required by text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents.

Office and productivity suites such as Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes and WordPerfect support proprietary document formats. Suites that support OpenDocument include OpenOffice, StarOffice, KOffice and IBM Workplace.

Michael Carden, preservation software manager at the National Archives of Australia, said NAA is in the process of migrating its office file preservation format to use the OpenOffice 2.0 suite which by default uses OpenDocument.

Carden said his team at NAA was testing code at this minute and has been submitting changes to the CVS repository on Sourceforge regularly.

"Testing is massive. We need to account for every permutation of any file format. It is time-consuming," he said.

The NAA is interested in ODF because the nature of its work involves receiving information in disparate file types from all over the country.

"We can't tell people 'we only accept this file format'. We have to deal with whatever comes our way."

Because the bulk of the material received by NAA deals with office productivity suites, converting it to an open format ensures the longevity of the information. Carden said its paper documents, if kept in perfect conditions should last well over 100 years. Digital information should also be afforded that luxury, he said.

In the US a high profile OpenDocument case study is the State of Massachusetts. In September of last year, Massachusetts' then CIO Peter Quinn finalized a policy for state agencies to develop a gradual plan for migration to OpenDocument, beginning January 1, 2007.

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