The Importance of Open File Formats
The current trend towards open source has brought about incredible products and vast amounts of change in people and business. This can easily be seen in the Mozilla and Apache Foundations that control a surprisingly large amount of the web with the Firefox web browser and the Apache HTTP server. Other open source projects like bittorrent represent a large amount of the traffic across the internet. These 'revolutions' are not, however, a result of their open source roots, but rather a result of open standards on the internet. Think about all those open source software packages out there that attempt to duplicate closed, proprietary packages. They are great software packages because of their love of open standards. The world, business especially, is not falling in love with open souce software, because most people) are fine paying for software. However, people are starting to realize the value of open standards that are supported by multiple software packages. The internet is the best example of this. Aside from a few IE only pages, the internet is a gigantic collection of documents all encoded into an open format, HTML. People can use whatever piece of software, free or not, to browse the internet.
Now return to the business world. Microsoft Office dominates. All these products included in Office have numerous open source replacements, but few in the personal world and even less in the business world adopt these free products. The only forgiving aspect of these products is that for the most part, their files can be interchanged with open source products. Even worse is when lightly adopted pieces of software, like Open Office, create their own formats that cannot be read by either closed or open source software. What does a business do when they receive a Open Office document and cannot open it in Word and their IT guys won't let Open Office be installed. This prevents communication between businesses. The same situation happens with presentations and spreadsheets. The answer to this situation is in three letters: PDF. PDF is the current open document format that can be read by open and closed source software and can be written on any operating system. Nobody gets emailed a PDF and can't open it.
Databases: Some people believe world spins because databases. But all these databases can hardly communicate with each other because of their lack of a unified format. Sure, SQL was created two decades ago, but it quickly became misused an made into propriatary format. Numerous pieces of software require a specific vendor's SQL server. Only open souce products usually give users a choice in database servers. However, there is a light at the end of the database tunnel, and it also comes in three letters XML. XML allows for application developers to define the format for their data and removes the hard requirement for a server. This allows administrators to write a simple script to manipulate date from one application to another, allows for much easier backups. The format is even flexible enough to be used for images in the SVG format. The SVG format is in a unique position to upset a number of other file formats. While it was designed to bring the ease of HTML to graphics, it has lot of potential. The future of SVG is still fuzzy, but countless possibilities exist. First, it may overthrow some web image formats, but this is unlikely because of the foothold existing formats have. Along those lines, some have predicted that SVG will take over flash animations. This is interesting because while SVG is open, and Adobe and others have created readers for the format, Flash is closed leaving only Macromedia, I mean Adobe...hmm... and some open source imitations to read flash files. Another use of the SVG format is to overthrow the propritary visio format and others for technical 'pictures'. CAD drawings, along with network documents and others can all be written as SVGs and will allow for the document to be shared by everyone and used on any program. Operating systems, software, and communication methods no longer matter, as long as everyone has software that can read the open format.