First of all thanks to Johan for the interest taken in our preferred formats document and the feedback given in this blog. All of the arguments he makes about loss of precision are correct. That’s why we selected ODS as preferred and XLS, XLXS as accepted formats. Incidentally, the finding that CSV has precision issues was new to us and is certain to be part of our evaluation of our preferred formats document.

In this document we provide 2 lists: preferred and acceptable formats for different information categories (not only spreadsheets, but also including text documents, image files etc). A format is preferred when it’s an open standard as defined by the so called Forum Standaardisatie, a government agency dedicated to promoting usage of open standards in the Dutch central administration. Acceptable means it’s not (fully) open and documented but we already have the experience and the strategies in place to ensure longtime archiving.

The reason we included PDF/A – one of the formats included on the Forum Standaardisatie list – as one of our preferred formats is that in our experience spreadsheet are not only used for, say, complicated calculations but also to store plain text in a table format. In these kinds of spreadsheets, the individual cells do not interact with one another and what you see on your screen is all there is to it. In these cases – exclusively – we feel that PDF/A is an appropriate format for long term archiving. That’s what is meant with the phrase “Note: some (interactive) functionality will not be available after conversion to PDF/A. If this functionality is deemed essential, this will be a reason for not choosing PDF/A”. We call it interactive, Johan calls this dynamic, but I think we mean the same thing. To prevent misunderstandings we’ll probably explain in more detail what is meant by ‘interactive’ in future versions.

I had a chance yesterday to talk to Johan and we both concluded that spreadsheets are tricky. Feedback like his remarks are indeed appreciated and will be used to improve and update our preferred formats document in future versions.