IBM Throws Its Hat In The Ring With Support For Open Document Format

In early December, IBM said the next release of its Workplace Managed Client 2.6, due in early 2006, will support ODF version 1.0. ODF is an XML standard blessed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), but not by Microsoft, which fields the most popular desktop application suite. The Open Document Format for Office Applications is supposed to assure file and document portability. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had backed this format and said it would move off the ubiquitous Microsoft Office desktop applications if the developer did not embrace the standard. But in November, Massachusetts appeared to reverse that stance.

Massachusetts&' beef did make some progress, however. In the face of this pressure, Microsoft promised that its next-generation Office 12 applications would support the popular Adobe PDF format, and the developer submitted its own Open XML Office format to the ECMA standards body for approval. On the other hand, Microsoft also said Office 12 applications will save to its own XML Paper Specification (XPS), also known as Metro. Metro is widely seen as a rival to PDF and one prong of a Microsoft attack on Adobe Systems&' dominance in electronic and print publishing. To some extent, Microsoft is paying for past misdeeds. Even die-hard Microsoft boosters once complained bitterly that the company&'s ever-changing file formats made document interoperability, even among different releases of Word or Excel, very difficult. Since Microsoft embraced XML, some of those worries have been allayed. IBM telegraphed its move earlier when Robert Sutor, IBM&'s vice president of standards and open-source software, urged universal support for ODF. While IBM has a strong position in servers with its WebSphere middleware stable, Domino messaging and DB2 database, it is not a huge factor on the desktop despite its Workplace Client effort.

“Since [ODF] is already in the [ISO] fast-track process, I&'m confident that 2006 will be a very big year for the adoption of ODF,” Sutor said. According to IBM, the word processing, presentation graphics and spreadsheet editors within the new Workplace Managed Client will be able to import, export and rewrite files saved in ODF. IBM insiders had hoped to use the workplace applications as a Trojan Horse against Microsoft. If a company can use these applets for 80 percent of their desktop tasks, they may not see the need to upgrade Office, and the money they save could fund purchases of IBM&'s server-based technology, insiders told CRN two years ago. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems&' StarOffice, which has a small market share compared with Microsoft Office, supports ODF in its latest version 8 release. Corel WordPerfect Office has long supported the PDF format, which has helped it retain customers in the legal and government markets, since they mandate its use. Corel is based in Ottawa.

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