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IBM Reinforces Commitment to OpenDoc

While IBM has previously endorsed the OpenDocument standard, this week it decided to put its money where its public relations message resides and announced that the next version of its Workplace Managed Client will support the format.

Company officials made the point that standardized easily-exchangeable document formats are and will increasingly be important on a global basis by making the announcement in Delhi, India.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the OpenDocument format (ODF), particularly in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Governments, as well as businesses, confront a growing need to store and maintain billions of documents in formats that assure they will be retrievable decades and even centuries into the future.

The OpenDocument format grew out of the XML file format schemas in OpenOffice, the open source office applications suite. Adobe’s Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) is compatible with OpenDoc.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has said that it will not directly support ODF, and in response announced last month it plans to submit its Office 12 Open XML formats to Ecma International, a European standards body. (See, “Critics Cry Foul Over Ecma Flap,” Dec. 1.) One of Microsoft’s arguments for this is that its Office Open XML formats are already the de facto standards.

Massachusetts’ executive branch, which had been leaning strongly away from continuing to use Microsoft Office applications due to the lack of native ODF support, reversed course and gave the Redmond software firm the high sign on the company’s intent to submit Office Open XML to Ecma.

That started a letter writing campaign on the part of interested Microsoft competitors as well as a few supporters. Carl Cargill, Sun Microsystems’ director of corporate standards fired off an immediate letter to Massachusetts officials, chiding the Commonwealth for backsliding on a careful evaluation and decision to require that office applications save files natively in OpenDoc formats only.

IBM’s Robert Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open source, also wrote to Massachusetts officials, with a point more subtle than Sun’s.

“In ODF, I believe that the Commonwealth made a wise choice in going with a specification that matured in a transparent way under the technical guidance of a community of a broad range of experts. I believe that it is important that you apply this [sic] same criteria to any additional standards you decide to adopt,” Sutor’s letter said.

A letter sent by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), fell into a more supportive category even though Ken Wasch, SIIA’s president and author of the letter, has been a longstanding and outspoken critic of Microsoft.

“We commend the Commonwealth for recognizing, in addition to XML, that ‘other acceptable formats technology’ (i.e., ‘de facto’ formats and specifications for the presentation of data, text, etc.) that meet the criteria of openness (even if not affirmed by a traditional standards body) are considered acceptable under the policy for use with official records of the Commonwealth,” Wasch’s letter said, although it pointedly did not mention the Redmond, Wash. company. Microsoft is not a member of the SIIA.

As far as IBM is concerned, Big Blue previously already lined up on the ODF side so the latest move is no surprise. Given IBM Workplace’s momentum, however, the move to provide ODF support would seem to reinforce the commitment among customers and partners.

The upcoming release of Workplace Managed Client 2.6, due out in early 2006, will include support for version 1.0 of the ODF standard, according to an IBM statement. ODF 1.0, which is overseen by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), was ratified last spring.

Estimates by researcher Gartner predict that Office Open XML will not be finalized as a standard before the first quarter of 2007. And Gartner recommends: “Adopt the OASIS format if you can exploit XML now for significant business advantages.”

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.