Wanted: developers to make outdated documents readable again

The Document Foundation project aims to develop tools for converting files from proprietary to open formats

The Document Foundation is looking for developers who want to help make documents locked in old, outdated and inaccessible file formats readable again.

The Document Liberation Project aims to attract open source developers to help provide tools for the conversion of proprietary file formats to the corresponding ODF ISO standard document format, The Document Foundation (TDF) said in a news release on Wednesday.

The Germany-based independent, self-governing organization mainly focuses on the development of open source office suite LibreOffice. While LibreOffice community members have been busy improving format interoperability since 2010, help from outside the community is needed to push the effort forward, the foundation said.

So far, LibreOffice developers have provided read support for a variety of proprietary file formats and its import libraries are currently used by a number of vendors, it said.

Being unable to open old files is a common problem encountered by computer users today and caused primarily by proprietary file formats, the foundation said.

The inability to open old files could be especially problematic in government agencies, affecting the ability of government employees, citizens and businesses to access essential public sector information.

The way to prevent or solve this problem is to use true open standards that are fully documented, they said. "But as things stand today, we must face a daunting reality: a significant amount of our legacy digital content is encoded in proprietary, undocumented formats," the project website's reads.

While the project asked for help, it lacks a schedule or plan for formats to covert next, said David Tardon, one of the conversion project's founding members, in an email.

Depending on the format involved, it typically takes a couple of weeks to create a format translator that is usable, and after that it takes more time to iron out the details, he said.

If a format is undocumented, the project tries to uncover the structure of the file format themselves, said Tardon.

"This is actually rather the norm than the exception: very few proprietary file formats have any documentation available," he said.

Interested developers can contact the project.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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