November 10, 2005 4:00 AM PST

OpenDocument format gathers steam

Big guns in the software industry are massing behind OpenDocument as government customers show more interest in alternatives to Microsoft's desktop software.

IBM and Sun Microsystems convened a meeting in Armonk, N.Y., on Friday to discuss how to boost adoption of the standardized document format for office applications. The ODF Summit brought together representatives from a handful of industry groups and from at least 13 technology companies, including Oracle, Google and Novell.

That stepped-up commitment from major companies comes amid signs that states are showing interest in OpenDocument. Massachusetts in September decided to standardize on OpenDocument for some state agencies.

James Gallt, the associate director for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said Wednesday that there are a number of other state agencies are exploring the use of the document format standard.


What's new:
Major software companies are massing behind the OpenDocument, a standardized format for documents. They are launching technical and marketing efforts just as government customers show more interest in alternatives to Microsoft Office.

Bottom line:
OpenDocument could help technology companies loosen Microsoft's grip on desktop software and give state governments an "open" alternative to Office.

More stories on OpenDocument

"It's more grassroots, starting small and working its way through individual states and agencies," Gallt said, but did not specify which governments were looking into it.

Those state customers are seeking alternatives to Microsoft Office, while the technology providers are looking to loosen Microsoft's grip on the desktop marketplace, said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk. Those factors are what are fueling the growing momentum for OpenDocument, he said.

"There's a confluence of events," said O'Grady, who attended the ODF Summit. "You have customers like Massachusetts asking for choice and the ability to play vendors off each other, and at the same time, you have vendors looking at an opportunity to compete on a Microsoft control point."

The OpenDocument standard, which uses XML data-tagging to format and store documents, was only ratified in May of this year. The format, known in full as the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications, covers applications such as word processors, spreadsheets and charts. As a standard, OpenDocument is an "open" format that can be used in any software, whether closed source or open source.

Although few products incorporate support for OpenDocument right now, O'Grady expects that more manufacturers will adopt it. That could have a significant impact on Microsoft's multibillion-dollar Office franchise, he noted.

Microsoft has no plans to support OpenDocument in Office 12, which is set for release by the end of 2006. Instead, it will rely on third-party companies to create converters between XML-based Office documents and XML-based document formats such as OpenDocument, said Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft Information Worker business strategy.

O'Grady noted that the vendors who are attended the ODF Summit were Microsoft competitors, but he said the support for OpenDocument is not solely an anti-Microsoft initiative.

"Office 12 is a very, very nice package. If they were support ODF, they'd do very well just competing on technical merits of applications. It's very nice package. That's the shame. It doesn't have to be an anti-Microsoft thing," O'Grady said.

At the summit
The participants in last week's ODF Summit included Red Hat, Adobe, Computer Associates, Corel, Nokia, Intel and Linux e-mail company Scalix, in addition to Oracle, Novell and Google. The goal of the meeting, convened by Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open source, and Simon Phipps, Sun's chief open-source officer, was to drive support for the standards "on a global level," Sutor said.

The providers committed resources to technically improve OpenDocument through existing standards bodies and to promote its usage in the marketplace, possibly through a stand-alone foundation.

For example, various vendors committed to sponsoring three technical committees at the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), the standards body that creates the OpenDocument format.

The OASIS committees will seek to improve OpenDocument-based products for people with disabilities; add digital rights management features that would interoperate with Microsoft Office-based DRM systems; and standardize spreadsheet formula formats, Sutor said.

Echoing comments of other OpenDocument supporters, Sutor said that standardization in productivity application formats follows the pattern set in other technology areas, such as networking and communications protocols.

"Heck, it's just standards...Outside of some politicians and some Microsoft-backed industry groups, there's an overwhelming support for this thing," he said. "It's kind of hard to argue against it."

On the promotional side, IBM will draft a proposal to create an "OpenDocument Foundation" which would serve to market OpenDocument-based products.

At the moment, Sun's StarOffice suite and the open-source product is based on StarOffice--support the standard. Other technology providers, including Novell and IBM, have already voiced their support for OpenDocument or OpenOffice.

CONTINUED: Goverment interest in ODF…
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Acts of Desperation
This is such an act of desperation from these companies who dont have the clout to compete with MS head on and courting on desperate acts like giving away free software in the hopes to kill MS. In the very long shot that they successes not only are they shrinking a industry but also companies like IBM which are the primary cause of USs trade deficit is hurting one of the key US export after selling their PC business and brands like ThinkPad to a Chinese company. Brainless fools are they.
Posted by FutureGuy (742 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There is a brainless fool here, but its not IBM...
Switching to an open, standard format for document storage is not an act of despiration. It is a way of looking forward 5, 10 and 20 years down the road and trying to come up with a way for people to keep their information in a format that allows them to chose whatever office productivity programs they want. It allows choosing these programs on features, costs, etc. as opposed to being forced to use a a certain program because the vendor LOCKED them in.

Imagine buying a house where the contractor used custom screws that he or she patented, and if you wanted to removed any of them, you had to buy a special screwdriver that only he/she sold, for an exhorbitant amount of money. Would you want that contractor building your house?
Posted by Kindred_ (10 comments )
Link Flag
How come you are saying that "companies like IBM...
... which are the primary cause of USs trade deficit which is hurting one of the key US export after selling their PC business and brands like ThinkPad to a Chinese company" when it was Microsoft which almost brought IBM (which was then headed Lou Gerstner) to its knees when it depending at that time on Microsoft delivering on OS/2; some of us do appear to have a very short memory span, don't we, well read again "Who Killed OS/2?
How Big Blue Blew It, Though Redmond Helped: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

when we were all looking forward "To Boldly Go . . . into a VisualAge for Java with our Warp cylinders firing on all engines. Perhaps it is pay back time. Are you getting scared of the Chi.... Dragons at nights or what, poor LOU, he was perhaps not the "techie" he should have been to understand what Redmond was up to at the time; anyway, MS$ looks like a good investment in the aeronautical and space industries as the "Western Hemispheric Golden Eagles" will be there to protect "you" and WARP you out of danger since you are apparently beginning to have nightmares about the "Dragons" which now have a significant amount of control over IBM's ThinkPad brands. LOL!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Link Flag
What has "the vendors who are attended...
... the ODF Summit were Microsoft competitors" has to do with the "fact" that the international business communities such as financial institutions, insurance companies, stock traders... let alone governmental agencies around the world -- in addition to a whole host of others which all require "unrestricted access" (and no lock-ins) to data and collaborative capabilities have in the recent past been left to the "whims" and "fancies" of a particular company from Redmond that apparently has not motivation to make the working lives of individuals as well as the "international business consultant" any much easier like the adoption of the OpenDocument Standards would!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Opening up the market.
I personally think that the OpenDoc formate is an outstanding idea. I won't say it's completly ready for prime time yet, but it has more promise than those formats created for proprietary reasons. I think that all companies that would be affected by this standard would want to play a role in it's creation and development.

I don't find validity in the argument that we should all just learn to live with Microsoft Office because of it's 90% market saturation. I don't like Microsoft Office and I never have. I don't much care for OpenOffice either. I use WordPerfect Office and I like it over any of those others. That is a personal preference. Now WordPerfect uses it's own proprietary format (based on SGML and DocBook I believe), but at least it hasn't changed since version 6.x.

Another thing to keep in mind is that other 10% of the market that doesn't use Microsoft Office may well be 1,000,000+ people. I don't believe any company should be force to use the OpenDoc format, but I do think that every company that makes an office suite should be apart of the OASIS group (of course by choice).

My thinking here is you have a chance to create a format that is open and free and would allow for one document standard that's backwards compatable and forward thinking. It's not perfect, but nothing is. It is one step closer to a Utopia for all computer users. Besides shouldn't a program be defined by it's productivity and robustness and not by it's document format.

I just think we have a chance to create a truly usable format for the interchange of documents that would allow seamless (albeit not perfect) interchange. I think it also allows people to use the software that suites them best and not make buying decisions base on a format.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Besides shouldn't a program...
... be defined by it's productivity and robustness and not by it's document format"... makes the paradigm of the "JAVA" environment where one can build JAVA Applets, Servlets and Applications quickly and quite easily (and being able to - Write Once, Run Anywhere) comes to mind. To this comment I would like to add the feature/function of "XML I-N-T-E-R-O-P-E-R-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y with other OEMs which it is believe is a major board of contention between the OASIS Group and the Microsoft Corporation.
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Link Flag
Good Point
Thats the point many people people keeping missing. No one is forcing anyone to use any type of document format or office software. What the commonwealth of massachusetts and other companies are saying is "hey, we are creating documents that we plan on having for decades, and we want them in a format that we know is accessible now and will be in the future".
I personally use microsoft office everyday at work and at home, but I know that if I want to keep a document around for a long time or if I know I need to share it with a diverse group of people, I chage things to a text file or a csv. ANYONE can read these formats which makes them fantastic for sharing information. What openDocument provides is the next evolution in these formats, by providing advanced funcationality to a format that again, ANYONE can read and use.
Posted by Kindred_ (10 comments )
Link Flag
Open format != open source
The lead didn't SAY open formats and open source are the same. It said these two trends are happening at the same time. That's technically correct, and there's also a large overlap.

But I think putting the two thoughts so close together, and putting open source so close to the top, does a disservice by feeding into people's misconceptions that adopting OpenDocument might mean being forced to adopt open source.

As the article went on to say, Corel Corp. was represented. They intend to support OpenDocument in a completely closed-source product, WordPerfect.

Discussing open formats for what they are may not be as attention-grabbing as discussing it in the context of other trends. But it would certainly be more informative.
Posted by (54 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fair point
We certainly didn't want conflate the open source and open format/open standard terms. And I do think the article makes clear that closed vendors like Microsoft can implement the OpenDocument standard. But in the interest of being as clear as possible, an editor will make a change to the lead sentence.
Posted by mlamonica (330 comments )
Link Flag
A bloody good idea
Open document is a very good idea.
It would be a difference similar to the Internet vs proprietry Bulletin Boards.
Remember the old AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, or MSN networks. Well they eventually abandoned their proprietry protocols for the TCPIP protocols that we call the Internet. When you look at the measure of innovation that these old BBS networks had compared to an open platform like the Web, and then one may understand how an open document standard can transform document innovation. It's really simple to understand. An open standard or platform leads to much greater innovation due to the variety and sheer amount of people working with it.

How can you argue with that. It's simple mathematics.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well Said
You make an excellent point. Standardizing the file format will fuel innovation that would provide benefits for everyone. And standardizing documents is only the tip of the iceberg.

We need evolvable standards for email messages, instant messages, blog entries, etc. Then the Internet experience will really get interesting.
Posted by joepwro (6 comments )
Link Flag
Inaccurate Information is not based on StarOffice, rather, the new StarOffice suites are based on Whoever wrote the article DIDN'T DO HIS OR HER RESEARCH!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Information is accurate, you're mistaken
If you are going to complain that something is innacurate, make sure it actually is. Both StarOffice and OpenOffice are based off of the same source code - the StarOffice source code. StarOffice preceeded OpenOffice, which came into existence when Sun released it into open source. StarOffice contains some features that are not able to be open sourced, so there are still some differences between the two.
Posted by cristianodiaz (31 comments )
Link Flag
You may be mistaken on this
OpenOffice and StarOffice are based on the same code most of which is written by Sun. StarOffice is simply OpenOffice with some additional commercial components. If you look at the contributors to and the managment comittee you will find that they mostly work for Sun.

In addition the OpenDocument format was largely developed by Sun or if you like The chair and secretary of the OASIS organisation which developed OpenDoc work for Sun and are also members of
Posted by andrew243 (9 comments )
Link Flag
long overdue
I welcome this initiative!
It will open the door to a document sharing while not having to worry about the readability at the recipients side.

This can not have anything to do with a move against MicroSoft, but have you noticed the response of MicroSoft?! It is exactly that sort of attitude that is the problem. Let there be an open standard for sure!

And then; have you noticed how nice and compact an OpenDocument is? Take a MsWord Document, convert it to OpenDocument and see the difference!

Anyway, the converiance of having a shared standard, a document that you are sure to be able to open on all applications should be welcomed by all and is long overdue.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
way to go openDoc!
Most interesting thing of all is to see Microsoft
going bust in 5 years - mark my words
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by 208774626618253979477959487856 (176 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Poor reasearch yet again.
Someone else pointed out an inaccuracy in this article I'll point out another.

Abiword and KOffice also support OpenDocument
Posted by angrykeyboarder (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ODF, etc.
While I agree that Microsoft has somewhat of a monopoly on alot of things and costs are somewhat high, I also TRY to look at the fact that if were not for the agressiveness of Bill Gates we would not, in all likelyhood sitting her being able to write these words as IBM and Aplle were really tryoing to maintain corporate and weathy clients. Remember that Microsoft brought PC to the mainstream. And why should Microsoft share codes with everyone else, but those peole do not need to share codecs with Microsoft????????
Posted by corredorlobo (15 comments )
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