KOffice has seen a huge surge in exciting feature development in the past year, putting it in the same league as free software giants such as OpenOffice.org and The GIMP, and even surpassing them in places. With version 1.6 due out this Sunday (October 15) it's timely that
KOffice's painting application, is now leading an effort to develop a
fairly boring feature, an open graphics file format.
Boring, but potentially very useful. In the first place we currently only have The GIMP's
which fulfills some of the needs shared by free raster graphics applications but effectively serializes the internal structures of the application in one binary blob. Then there is
TIFF, a format so horrendously complicated and unstandardized that nobody seems to want to fully implement it. Having a format that caters for everybody's needs, and that allows raster graphics to be exchanged between applications, is obviously a good thing.
While there was some controversy surrounding the decision to make yet another format, rather than using the XCF2 specification under development, some GIMP developers have begun working on OpenRaster. It is now being drafted within the CREATE initiative, part of freedesktop.org. Inge Wallin, KOffice's marketing lead, told LWN that they also plan to invite Adobe
and Corel to collaborate on the specification.
The second major strength of OpenRaster is that it fits nicely into the OpenDocument craze, adding raster graphics to the range of document types already supported. OpenDocument gives developers a lot of their needs for free, such as wrapping up metadata, settings and bitmaps in XML. At aKademy, the KDE community's annual developer conference, the KOffice developers got a chance to discuss lessons they can learn from
with a member of the audience who happened, according to Wallin, to be something of an expert on the subject. SVG, of course, already implements similar features in XML and is well-structured. Using OpenDocument as a basis means a lot of the technical work is
already done for them.
But more importantly, by piggybacking on the initiative of OpenDocument in government and industry circles, OpenRaster will gain a far wider exposure than any format that was developed primarily within the free software community. The OpenDocument movement also wins in three ways. First it gains a proper raster format. Second, this format demonstrates the flexibility and extensibility of the specifications. Finally, because the effort is being led by KOffice developers, with collaboration from The GIMP developers amongst others, it helps overcome the impression that OpenDocument is basically OpenOffice.org's document format suite, rather than a range of well supported exchange formats.
In fact, OpenDocument has been the default file format for KOffice since the release of version 1.5 in April, 2006. The office suite has been developing much faster than OpenOffice.org, and KFormula sports the most complete implementation of OpenDocument and MathML thanks to a Google Summer of Code project.
It's not just graphics where KOffice is breaking new ground, either. The developers of Kexi, a free competitor for Microsoft Access, Filemaker and Oracle Forms, told LWN that they are in the early
stages of developing an OpenDocument specification for databases. The rough plan is to develop an XML exchange format that may be agnostic about the storage layer, or may use a widely supported technology such as SQLite.
So what does the future hold? According to Boudewijn Rempt, who is leading the OpenRaster initiative, the first complete specification should be released in a couple of months. Once that is more or less ready, the Krita developers will start implementing it. If KDE 4 is out in time, and all goes according to plan with KOffice 2, the format may be the default in Krita 2. Otherwise it will remain a reference
implementation, awaiting full integration after Krita 2.0 is released.
As for its status as an OpenDocumentFormat, version 1.1 of the ODF specification has just come out. Version 1.2, which will be put through the ISO process again, is expected in early 2008, so it is hoped that OpenRaster and perhaps even the database format can be part of the specification by then. Artists will have good reason to expect developers to implement support in major free applications if it does, and we may even see the industry giants coming on board within that timescale. OpenDocument moves one step closer to format predominance.
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