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ISO approves Open Document Format as standard

Microsoft’s retort: ODF ‘won’t satisfy most of our Office customers today’

By Eric Lai
May 3, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The International Standards Organization (ISO) this week accepted the Open Document Format (ODF) as an international standard for saving and exchanging digital office documents, according to a group supporting ODF’s use.

Best-known for its ISO 9000 family of quality certifications, he ISO’s six-month voting process on whether to grant special ISO 26300 status to ODF ended May 1 with “sweeping approval” from ISO members, according to Marino Marcich, executive director of the Washington-based Open Document Format Alliance. An exact tally of the votes was not immediately available on ISO’s Web site.

Other popular technology formats that have received ISO approval in the past include HTML and Adobe Systems Inc.’s Portable Document Format.

“This is a really powerful signal that ODF has arrived, and improves the prospect of it being incorporated into a range of products,” said Marcich, head of the three-month-old group. The ODF Alliance, an offshoot of the Software & Information Industry Association, counts more than 150 companies and organizations as members.

Based on the XML file format used by the open-source productivity suite, OpenOffice.org, ODF is meant to be a vendor-neutral standard for saving common office documents, such as memos, reports, books, spreadsheets, charts and presentations, according to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, which submitted ODF to the ISO last September.

Supporters such as IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Novell Inc. say ODF creates a reliable, open format that will be particularly useful for governments and organizations worried whether their archived digital documents will be readable in the future.

ODF’s main opponent has been Microsoft Corp. Because of its market-dominating Office suite, Microsoft formats .doc, .xls and .ppt from Word, Excel and Powerpoint, are the most widely used, albeit proprietary, formats used by individuals and businesses.

Microsoft is developing a successor format as part of its upcoming Office 2007 that it calls Microsoft Office Open XML. Microsoft says it is licensing Open XML for free to companies and is submitting it to an European standards body, Ecma International, for approval as an open standard.

To coalesce around a single standard would hinder innovation, said Jason Matusow, director of Standards Affairs for Microsoft.

“There are hundreds of industry-specific XML schemas used right now by industries spanning health care, real estate, insurance, finance and others. ODF is yet another XML-based format in the market,” he said. “The ODF format is limited to the features and performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy most of our Microsoft Office customers today. Yet we will support interoperability with ODF documents as they start to appear and will not oppose its standardization or use by any organization. The richness of competitive choices in the market is good for our customers and for the industry as a whole.”

If Open XML is approved by Ecma later this year, Microsoft will ask the body to submit it to the ISO for approval.

But critics such as Marino have said that Open XML’s specifications have not been finalized, and that Microsoft retains too much control for its format to be considered open.

Marcich said that with the ISO’s approval of ODF, groups such as the ODF Alliance will now turn towards convincing governments to adopt ODF or mandate its usage.

Massachusetts has been the highest-profile adopter of ODF, with former CIO Peter Quinn mandating its implementation by Jan. 1. Current CIO Louis Gutierrez told Computerworld in April that he does not foresee wide-scale use of ODF by state workers by that time, though he plans to give an update by mid-year on the state’s progress.

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