Update: IBM to support Open Document standard

Workplace Managed Client 2.6 next year will gain ODF-based word processing, spreadsheets

The love for open formats for electronic documents pouring out of the government ranks of Massachusetts is encouraging, but where are the products to help make the Open Document dream a reality?

IBM early next year will step up to the plate with an Open Document Format-based offering to join other ODF-supporting offerings from Sun Microsystems and OpenOffice.org.

Big Blue on Monday announced support for the ODF standard in an upcoming release of its Workplace Managed Client application.

The productivity tools in Version 2.6 of the Workplace Managed Client, due for release in early 2006, will include support for the ability to import, export, and rewrite files saved in Version 1.0 of the ODF standard. The Workplace productivity editor tools include word processing, presentation graphics, and spreadsheets. IBM Workplace Managed Client also supports Microsoft Office file formats.

ODF 1.0, recently ratified by OASIS, is an XML-based specification for storing and exchanging office documents.

Although the Microsoft Office productivity suite holds a commanding lead in worldwide market share, emerging economies such as China, Brazil, and India, and governments that have welcomed open standards such as the state of Massachusetts, are threatening to shift that balance.

Because it is XML-based, ODF is an ideal format for data storage, interoperability, management, and archiving, said Dave Kajmo, senior product manager of IBM Workplace Managed Client.

"If I create a document stored in this format, it is easy to have the document opened with other applications that support the format, even [apps] from another vendor," Kajmo said.

In essence, vendors supporting ODF hope it will ensure that customers won't have to continue paying to access their own intellectual property.

"The file format itself is a published open standard. If I store content in [ODF], I can come back in a decade or two decades and not worry that it is a file format not supported by a vendor anymore," Kajmo said.

Furthermore, by standardizing on the file format or making the file format a commodity, vendors are forced to compete on other factors such as services, innovation, and features.

Although Kajmo was reluctant to name other IBM products that might gain ODF support in the future, he did say potential candidates include applications that create records in a database.

"Really any software that creates a document could support ODF," Kajmo said.

According to Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst at RedMonk, although IBM's product support for ODF was not unexpected, it is a significant move.

"IBM is an active participant in the ODF community for a reason," O'Grady said. "Really what ODF is about is the ability for multiple vendors to provide competing implementations based on a single standard.

"Sun was first out of the gate with StarOffice 8, and now IBM is joining the fray. It is an indication that we can expect to see increasing numbers of competing [ODF] offerings," O'Grady said.

Upping the ante in the open document standards race, Microsoft recently said it will submit its Office Open XML document format to the International Standards Organization in time for the launch of Office 12.