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IBM Jumps On Open Document Bandwagon

IBM said the next release of its Workplace Managed Client 2.6, due early next year, will support ODF version 1.0. ODF is an XML standard blessed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).
Even as Massachusetts backs down on its insistence on support for the Open Document Format, IBM is throwing its weight behind the emerging standard.

IBM said the next release of its Workplace Managed Client 2.6, due early next year, 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 (ODF) is a standard that is supposed to assure file and document portability between applications. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had backed this format and earlier this year said it would move off the ubiquitous Microsoft Office desktop apps if they did not embrace the standard. But last month, Massachusetts appears to have reversed that stance.

Massachusetts did achieve some progress however. In the face of the stink it created, Microsoft promised that its next-gen Office 12 applications will support the popular Adobe PDF format and submitted its own Open XML Office format to ECMA standards body for approval.

On the other hand, Microsoft also said Office 12 apps 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 used to complain 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, however, some of those worries were allayed.

IBM telegraphed its move last week 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 much of a factor on the desktop despite its Workplace Client effort.

The productivity editors within the new Workplace Managed Client for word processing, presentation graphics and spreadsheets will be able to import, export and rewrite files saved in the ODF standard, according to an IBM statement. IBM insiders had hoped to use the workplace applications as a sort of Trojan Horse against Microsoft. If a company can use these applets for 80 percent of their desktop tasks, they can forget about upgrading Office, and the money they save from that alone could fund purchases of IBM's server-based technology, insiders told CRN two years ago.

Sun Microsystems' StarOffice, which has miniscule market share compared to 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 which mandate its use.