Office Shots for Confirmed ODF Interchange Fidelity

The new Officeshots.org service received a fair amount of attention at the recent ODF Interoperability Plugfest.  Taking a page from the “test your site with all browsers” tools that are available, Office Shots will take an uploaded ODF document and show how it renders in different ODF-supporting products.  To deal with the problem of confirming appearance of the document back to the submitter, the rendering by each application is captured in PDF.

This is a fledgling service, currently in limited beta.  It is sponsored by the same Dutch organizations that sponsored the ODF Plugfest.

The power of the service is its user-relevant confirmation of the fidelity with which a document of interest is rendered by different ODF-supporting software/platform combinations.  It is an easy way for evaluators to verify whether their important documents are rendered successfully in interchange among ODF products.  It also allows the subjective determination of success to be left in the hands of the users who know what qualifies as acceptable fidelity in each particular case.

One of the most-difficult situations in interchange of documents is when the receiver is seeing something materially different than what the sender (1) had in mind and (2) expects has been communicated.  For the parties to communicate about a suspected difficulty, they need to use a “channel” that differs from the one that has apparently failed.  Screen shots serve that purpose.  PDF is also valuable in the case where a PDF can be extracted that accurately-enough reflects what is intended and/or what is being seen.

Office Shots provide a way to proactively check, either because a problem is suspected with a local rendition or to ensure that a document and the choice of implementation-supported features is treated consistently by a variety of other implementations/platforms.

One can imagine that, over time, we could see Office Shots support links for troubleshooting specific discrepancies, finding practices for avoiding many of them, and easy reporting of problems to development teams.

Office Shots promises to provide a terrific reality-based approach to confirming the interoperability of ODF implementations as far as presentation fidelity is concerned.  This is also a first-line check on confirming difficulties with round-trip inter-product fidelity preservation.  (Of course, if the goal is solely presentation fidelity, PDF and other final-form formats may be preferable, especially when long-term preservation is also a consideration.)

I look forward to the impetus that Office Shots will provide to user recognition of practical ODF interoperability considerations.  I also think it will provide important stimulus and confirmation for developers who want to improve the interoperable use of their ODF-supporting software.

Beside the Officeshots.org site, there are other discussions of the project and its potential:

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