OpenDocument Format Finds Favor With International Standards Group

The International Standards Organization on Wednesday approved the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as an international standard. The approval could be a boon for companies that compete with Microsoft’s proprietary Office software — like Sun with its StarOffice.

The ODF emerged from the open source OpenOffice.org project. The initial work was submitted to, and further developed at, OASIS, where it was accepted as an official OASIS standard in May 2005. The six-month approval ballot for its adoption as a standard by the International Standards Organization and the International Electrotechnical Commission ended earlier this week.

Springboard for Adoption

“Approval of the OpenDocument Format by ISO marks an important milestone in the effort to help governments solve the very real problem of finding a better way to preserve, access and control their documents now and in the future,” said Marino Marcich, executive director of the ODF Alliance, a group of associations, academic institutions and industry executives aiming to solve the problem of improving access and retrieval of electronic government documents.

There’s no doubt in Marcich’s mind that this broad vote of support will serve as a springboard for adoption and use of ODF around the world. At the same time, it represents a milestone for the ODF Alliance, which has enjoyed a groundswell of support, he said. Since its launch in early March, the ODF Alliance has grown to over 150 members worldwide.

The Alliance contends that the ODF gives the public sector greater control over and direct management of their own records, information and documents without regard to the application or platform in which a document was created.

Public Sector Momentum

IT interests in Massachusetts recently debated the standards issue. The state government finally decided to standardize ODF but did not mandate the use of the standard. Government officials will review Microsoft’s software when the ECMA approves it and it is released next year.

Will ODF find momentum in the public sector? Just because there is an approved standard does not necessarily mean governments are going to use that standard, but ISO approval is a significant step for ODF, according to Illuminata Analyst Gordon Haff. He pointed to the challenges that occur when IT departments reverse-engineer proprietary closed formats as a reason the public sector may adopt ODF.

“There’s two issues with having a proprietary format,” Haff told LinuxInsider. “If you have to reverse-engineer it, there is always the question of whether or not you get it 100 percent right. The second question is — particularly today with so many software patents being granted — whether you are violating a patent by doing that reverse-engineering.”

Microsoft’s Complaint

Microsoft has complained that its competitors purposely eliminated it from ODF discussions, but the software giant could be fighting a losing battle with its argument for proprietary solutions in the public sector.

Governments attempt to promote multi-vendor competition, for starters. Then there is the need to access archived documents decades later. Relying solely on proprietary format that is only supported by a single company could be a hard sell to state officials.

“In this day and age, arguing that a proprietary format is better just really would seem to be swimming against the tide,” Haff remarked. Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

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