As an advocate of open source, it is difficult enough to convince people that they should avoid allowing themselves to be controlled through proprietary-licensed software and locked-down devices, both on my list of upcoming topics. Why, then should I also be an advocate for open standards?
I believe that a big part of the way open source benefits end-users is by making it easy for them to switch to a competing “fork” of the application they are using. When Oracle was slow in shifting control of OpenOffice to a vendor-neutral foundation that would serve other needs besides Oracle’s needs, LibreOffice was forked off into a separate application, under independent control, and not beholden to Oracle’s management and shareholders. Having seen some of the improvements that LO has, but which are not yet in OOo, I am certain that forking was beneficial to end-users, and that it will eventually benefit even those users who continue to use the original OOo.
But there are some times when a fork may not be the answer. What if, for instance, you are writing an image and graphics editor and you realize that many of your potential users will have files saved in GIMP’s .xcf format? Yes, you could read the GIMP source or reverse engineer, but it is better for developers and eventually for end-users too if extensible open standard file formats are the native formats of all applications, including open source applications. (Later, a specification was written.)
Whether you are handling mapping data, drafting drawings, office documents, text files or image files, it is in your best interest for that data to be saved in extensible, vendor-neutral open standard formats, and for users of those formats to be protected by intellectual property declarations. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case. Developers of market-leading products tend to use proprietary, vendor-controlled formats for their most faithful representation of users’ content, and to relegate standard interchange formats to second-class citizens.
I believe that even applications which may otherwise comply with the four freedoms will still fail to convey necessary freedom to the users of those applications if they neglect to make vendor-neutral, extensible, open standards their default file formats (and for that matter, defaulting to open standards for network communication protocols, also). Just as $VENDOR fails to convey necessary freedoms to users when $PROPRIETARY_LICENSED_APPLICATION is encumbered by a EULA, so $FOSS_DEVELOPER fails to convey all the freedoms users deserve when $FOSS_APPLICATION uses a non-open, non-standard format or protocol.