ODF Track changes

Michiel Leenaars nenmail at staff.isoc.nl
Wed Jul 21 13:26:56 CEST 2010

Dear WG6 members,

as I mentioned in the last phone conference, we have been working on something 
that should result in a defect report and a working alternative to the 
inadequate track change mechanism as defined in ISO/IEC 26300. In the words of 
some others: "ODF 1.1 has a very limited description of tracked changes, covered 
in only 4 pages of the specification.  ODF 1.1 does not does explain how to 
implement change tracking for many of Word’s commonly used features, and in some 
cases it is not even clear if the ODF mechanism makes it possible at all." (Doug 
Mahugh, Microsoft) [1]. A number of office products claim to no longer be able 
to support tracked changes for their entire feature set when using ODF, 
resulting in limited interoperability among implementations of ODF when it comes 
to tracked changes. Bart Hanssens (chair of ODF OIC TC) remarked on the ODF 
plugfest mailing list: "implementing change tracking seems to be a real 
challenge". Ganesh Paramasivam (KOffice) said on the comment list to the ODF TC: 
"I'm currently implementing ODF change tracking in KWord, and there doesn't seem 
to be a way to store delete changes in lists in a ODF compliant way for some 
scenarios. [..] If I were to follow the ODF delete change loading rules, we 
should have a delete fragment which looks like this [..] However, such a 
fragment would result in a invalid XML file and consequently an invalid ODF 

OpenDoc Society has asked some well-known and highly regarded experts in this 
field, the British company DeltaXML, to prepare an alternative mechanism that 
provides a complete and future proof track changes mechanism. The existing track 
change mechanism is not able to handle structural changes in a well-defined way. 
Therefore the new method is different, though we believe simpler and more 
powerful. In the new mechanism we propose, we have adopted the principle of 
keeping all deleted text in the position of its deletion. It would not be a big 
change to move it to another location in the file, though the reasons for doing 
this are not clear because it is just as easy to ignore deleted text when it is 
in position, by simply ignoring the whole element. In the existing track change 
format it is simple to extract the latest version of a document, and this has 
been maintained in the new format. It should certainly be possible to convert 
changes represented in the existing format into the new format. Informally we 
have approached a number of implementations, and so far responses have been 
nothing but very positive.

We think that this mechanism should be in effect as fast as possible, which is 
why we would like to get this into a defect report within ISO/IEC SC34 WG6 on 
ISO/IEC 26300 and simultaneously will send it to the OASIS public comment list 
as a comment to the public review of ODF 1.2. Since this is my first experience 
in doing something like this, I hope you will help us with this, as it will be 
very beneficial to ODF. Unfortunately, I cannot attend the phone conference, as 
my son will start his 6th birthday party in some minutes - an event I committed 
to almost six years before today's phone conference was picked from the 
calendar. My apologies for this.

If you have any questions, Robin La Fontaine, Director, DeltaXML Ltd  is 
available to answer any questions on our behalf during the meeting.

Robin La Fontaine, Director, DeltaXML Ltd  
T: +44 1684 592 144  
E: robin.lafontaine at deltaxml.com      
Registered in England 02528681 Reg. 
Office: Monsell House, WR8 0QN, UK

Kind regards,
Michiel Leenaars 

[1] http://blogs.msdn.com/b/dmahugh/archive/2009/05/13/tracked-changes.aspx

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