Open Challenge: IBM Throws Down Gauntlet on Office

Some time this quarter, expect a version of IBM's Workplace Managed Client that will support the Open Document Format (ODF).

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Microsoft has long ruled the office productivity space — 90 percent of all files in corporate America are Office files. But some time this quarter expect a version of IBM's Workplace Managed Client (2.6) that will support the OpenDocument Format (ODF) — an XML-based standard ratified by OASIS. (The free OpenOffice and Sun's Star Office are two other Office-like products using ODF.) For the first time, there will be a widely supported alternative to Office. The Workplace client has components that look and feel like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, read and save files in those formats (as well as ODF and PDF), and provide added collaboration features — for $69 per user. Because it's based on Eclipse, Workplace is installed and controlled by network administrators, simplifying support.

"Just as XML is taking over integration categories, people will choose ODF," says Arthur Fontaine, senior offering manager of IBM Workplace Managed Client. ODF adoption will be especially brisk in emerging markets like India, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe, Fontaine adds. While heavy Office users may be slow to convert to Workplace and open-source alternatives — and Fontaine admits that Workplace has limited support for macros, a drawback for spreadsheet-dependent customers — companies without Office deployed should find the alternatives attractive.

The State of Massachusetts' attempt to commit to using only open-source ODF and Adobe's PDF document formats collapsed under political pressure. But other governments, like India's, are choosing open source over proprietary tools as they extend Web-based technologies to previously unserved areas.