Liberate your documents by choosing a better format

Microsoft owns the ideas around word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. “I want it in a .doc” “Put it Excel” “Look, another PowerPoint!” But it need not and should not be that way.

I’ll cut to the chase: if you create content in proprietary format, you will always depend upon the company that supplies the company to access your work. And as the saying goes, “if you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.” So much more for simply opening what you’ve created.

Or inherited. I’m thinking about documents in the long game. Proprietary document formats are a dead end. I have files from the 1980s and 1990s I can’t open; what the chance that a church archivist will open your membership list in a hundred years?

You can (and should) use plain text and comma-separated values for simple documents. I have a fun, easy and public-domain resource for presentations that I’ll write up in about a week. Perhaps some will use (La)TeX for graduate theses and dissertations. (Right, mathematicians?)

And for more complex, but everyday tasks of word processing, spreadsheet and presentations, please use the Open Document Format. The world of open format advocates are celebrating Document Freedom Day today.

You can participate by considering how your casual document format choices have limited your access — like sending or having been sent one of those .docx files — and considering your options. The Open Document Format (ODF) is used in Google Docs, and the mature and free (both in licencing and cost) office suites and its continuing spin-off LibreOffice. (These can also read the proprietary formats, so I’m not setting you adrift.)

Use those formats, please — and I’ll make the pledge. If I need to put a word processing document or spreadsheet on my blog, I’ll make it available in ODF.

And learn more at the Document Freedom Day site.

Later. Jeremy Carbaugh, a colleague in the Sunlight Foundation Sunlight Labs team, was the one who told me about Document Freedom Day, and he also wrote about it. Sunlight makes a similar pledge about publishing these kinds of documents additionally in ODF.

Even later. Another member of the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere has gotten in the act: The Prayerful Sceptic, linking to another self-written blogpost at Intuitionistically Uncertain.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. All my documents are .wps. There are only a couple OpenOffice programs that can read them, and I’ve never managed a successful download and install of those programs. We’re talking three different computers. Do you have any tips to make it work?

  2. First was an Emachine, using Windows 98. Second was an HP Notebook running Vista- that one is kaput. My new machine is an HP Notebook running Windows7 and IE9. My word processor is Works9

  3. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for linking to my post! I’ve been planning to write something for my tech blog anyway; then I saw your post at — before I started writing, actually (busy day), and I figured, hey, document freedom is an ethical issue; it should at least be linked from my UUpdates-syndicated blog too.

    Marking your blog for further reading :)

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