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Jon Bosak on why PDF and PDF/A are the correct formats for publishing and archiving documents

15 Oct 2008 | | No Comment

Jon Bosak, famous for being the driving force behind the creation of the XML specification at the W3C, wrote an article last June that addressed the ongoing struggle between ODF (Open Document Format) and OOXML (Office Open XML) in their quest to become the new standard format for office productivity software.

Along the way he highlights the key differences between editable formats (authoring formats) and final formats (publishing formats), and why ODF or OOXML are good for the former, but not able all suitable the latter. In addition, he also draws attention to the fact that there are currently no real competitors to PDF/A in the area of long-term document preservation.


Editable document formats are designed to allow quick display and easy modification of content. ODF and OOXML are both editable document formats. Publishing formats, on the other hand, are designed to precisely express the location of text and graphics on the finished page. Adobe’s PDF (Portable Document Format) is an example of a publishing format. Editable formats like ODF and OOXML are inappropriate for the publication of state documents because they cannot guarantee line and page fidelity.

Line fidelity is the ability of a format to preserve line breaks, and page fidelity is the ability of a format to preserve page breaks. Line and page fidelity are important for several reasons, most obviously in the publication of formal documents such as laws and contracts, which frequently make reference to line and page numbers.

Neither ODF nor OOXML guarantees line and page fidelity. It is impossible to know whether an ODF or OOXML document displayed or printed using one software product will exhibit the same line and page breaks as the identical document displayed or printed using a different software product. You can’t get presentational uniformity even between a version of Microsoft Word for the PC and the same product running on a Macintosh, much less anything like identical treatment of the same ODF or OOXML file when processed by products from different manufacturers.

It is important to note that this limitation is not due to any defect in the products themselves; the inability of ODF and OOXML to guarantee line and page fidelity is a result of the way these formats are designed. The final layout of an ODF or OOXML document depends on details of the proprietary formatting algorithms for hyphenation, justification, and footnote placement that are unique to each particular program. By contrast, a publishing format like PDF does guarantee line and page fidelity but is almost impossible to edit interactively.

Read the full article: NYS Open Records Discussion Must Recognize Technical Requirements 

(hat tip: Inside PDF)

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