All eyes on Office as ODF gets the nod

Approval paves the way for office suites based on ODF to be more broadly adopted, proponents said Wednesday

The International Organization for Standards (ISO) this week gave formal approval to the Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF), paving the way for office suites based on ODF to be more broadly adopted, proponents said Wednesday.

The move comes as Microsoft's rival standard for its own Office productivity suite, OpenXML, awaits the same approval by the ISO. The ISO is an international consortium that works with the United Nations to maintain and approve international technology standards.

ODF is a standard for office documents overseen by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and supported by Microsoft rivals IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., among other companies. They want to see ODF adopted internationally as the standard for office documents and software that creates and manages these documents, such as Microsoft's popular Office suite and rivals such as Sun's Star Office.

The ISO's approval of the standard means they may get their wish, said Andrew Updegrove, an open-source advocate and attorney with Gesmer Updegrove LLP in Boston.

"With adoption of ODF by ISO/IEC now assured, software that implements the standard will now become more attractive to those European and other government purchasers for whom global adoption by ISO/IEC [International Engineering Consortium] is either desirable, or required," he said via e-mail. "Offerings such as OpenOffice and KOffice therefore should receive a boost in appeal and usage, as well as for-sale versions, such as Sun's StarOffice and IBM's Internet-based offering."

The government of Massachusetts in the U.S. already has put in motion a plan to migrate its documents to ODF from proprietary formats, a process it hopes to implement beginning in January 2007.

The OpenDocument Format Alliance (ODF Alliance), a group of more than 150 companies, organizations and academic institutions aimed at promoting the standard, also praised the ISO's approval of ODF. In an interview Wednesday, Marino Marcich, executive director of the ODF Alliance, called the move "a real shot in the arm."

"It improves the prospect for adoption of ODF in both the public and private sectors, and really [adoption of] the applications that support ODF," he said.

In Europe especially, government entities and IT administrators in general favor software based on ISO-approved standards over other technology, Marcich added.

ODF emerged from work being done in the OpenOffice.org open-source project. This work was later submitted to OASIS, where more development was done before it was accepted as an official OASIS standard in May 2005.

Now that ODF has been approved by the ISO, the final release of its documentation is expected in August, Marcich said.

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