At the ODF Plugfest in London, Google’s head of open source told the audience that work once once again in progress extending OpenDocument support in Google’s products.

At the opening of the event, Magnus Falk, deputy CTO for HM Government, told the audience that the decision to adopt ODF (alongside HTML and PDF) as the government’s required document format is now well in hand. When asked by an audience member about various government agencies that currently require submissions from the public in Microsoft-only formats, Falk said that all such departments must make a migration plan now for how they will achieve use of the required formats.

As a result, Google faces significant pressure securing government business in the UK – including in the health and education sectors – now that ODF is a requirement. The support for ODF in Google’s products is weak and uneven. While Docs can import text (ODT) and spreadsheet (ODS) files in ODF 1.1 and 1.2 format (albeit very imperfectly, as Google staff privately admit), only ODF 1.1 export is supported and there’s no support at all for presentation (ODP) files.

DiBona explained that the file viewer support for ODF in GMail and Docs is developed separately in the company and thus there will be things that can be viewed and not edited and vice versa. ODF support in advanced search is weak, and it’s hardly mentioned elsewhere such as on Android and Chromebooks. Indeed, a recent Google Drive announcement didn’t even mention ODF.

But that may be changing. Chris DiBona, head of open source at Google, told the PlugFest audience that support for exporting ODS and ODT files in ODF 1.2 format (the one used by all modern suites including MS Office and LibreOffice) is now under development. He also said that support for ODP presentations was under development and could be ready as soon as summer 2015. He cautioned these were informal estimates rather than firm commitments.

DiBona explained that Google’s internal metrics suggest to product groups there is little use of the existing ODF facilities, but he admitted that may be because of both the poor quality of the import and export, the weakness of the viewer implementations (which fail to display many aspects of ODF documents) and the lack of integration of the collaboration mechanisms into ODF.

But there’s no doubt that official interest in ODF around the world is changing the game. Google wants to sell Drive and Chromebooks into government-controlled markets and ODF is becoming a gating factor. Perhaps as a result, rather than just counting existing business based on flawed implementations that don’t fit their workflow, Google will aim to capture future business with its new features?

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