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IBM Lotus Opens Up WorkPlace Client

Hoping to broaden the appeal of its WorkPlace software into new markets, IBM has promised support for the Open Document Format (ODF) in the next release of its WorkPlace Managed Client, due the first half of this year.

Hoping to broaden the appeal of its WorkPlace software into new markets, IBM has promised support for the Open Document Format (ODF) in the next release of its WorkPlace Managed Client, due the first half of this year.

The upcoming 2.6 version of the product will support the 1.0 version of the XML-based ODF standard, recently endorsed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). It allows office-productivity applications to work seamlessly together across different operating environments.

Officials from IBM's Lotus division say they believe the standard is becoming increasingly important to users both large and small as they place more emphasis on being able to access and properly maintain critical documents for long periods of time. Making the matter more urgent, the number of critical documents is also increasing as many users marry a torrent of Web-based data to information already existing on large data servers.

Users are also tiring of royalties or licensing fees commonly associated with proprietary file formats, especially given the competitive open-source software alternatives available to them, Lotus officials believe.

"Our thinking is organizations should not have to pay for another vendor's software product in order to access their own data," says Michael Rhodin, general manager of WorkPlace, Portal and Collaboration Products at IBM. "The ODF makes it possible for important information contained in things like financial records, government contracts and payroll data to be usable."

Open standards like ODF help encourage sales of, and ensure the interoperability within, a wild patchwork of operating environments. That approach offers customers the choice to base IT decisions on business needs and avoid being locked into one software platform or vendor, Lotus officials contend. Within the upcoming 2.6 version are productivity editors that let users include word-processing, presentation-graphics and spreadsheet documents. The editors have native capabilities to import, export and rewrite files that are saved in the ODF standard.

What helped drive IBM's decision to support ODF is the growing popularity in developing countries for the support of open-standards software, particularly in the fastest-growing markets, such as China and India.

"As a government organization responsible for undertaking strategic e-government projects at national and state levels, we have promoted open standards and open source," says M. Moni, deputy director general at India's national Informatics Center. "They are the key factors in enabling products that are in tune with our digital-based economy."

The move to support ODF also helps IBM's WorkPlace strategy move forward to compete against Microsoft's Office suite of desktop applications by offering productivity tools that can be accessed and shared over the network, analysts observe.

"This is part of IBM's singles and doubles approach to supporting the WorkPlace strategy," says Mike Gotta, an analyst with The Burton Group.

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