What office document formats will your organization support next year? The answer used to be simple: You'd standardize on Microsoft Office, just like everybody else.
With ODF (OpenDocument Format) gaining momentum, however, it seems likely that you'll have to contend with at least two different document standards from now on. Corel has already announced that the forthcoming version of its WordPerfect office suite will support ODF in addition to Microsoft's Office OpenXML. But just when the industry was starting to get comfortable with the idea of two competing formats, now along comes a third.
The Uniform Office Format (UOF) was first conceived in 2002, but don't feel bad if you don't remember hearing about it. You probably haven't -- that is, not unless you've been living in the People's Republic of China for the past few years.
Homegrown technology standards, developed in parallel to activity in the rest of the world, are becoming routine for the Chinese. China has its own cellular phone standards, its own digital media types, and even its own microprocessors.
These aren't simple knockoffs like the bootleg DVDs and designer clothes you can find in Shanghai markets. By implementing locally developed standards, Chinese technology companies can keep up with the unique requirements in their country, many of which are determined by edicts of the Communist government. It also gives them a competitive advantage against more established foreign vendors that don't track China's standardization efforts.
In most of the world, Microsoft dominates the market for office productivity applications. In China, however, there are at least four other domestically developed office suites to choose from.
According to Wu Zhi-gang, deputy director of the China Electronics Standardization Institute 's Information Technology Research Center, one of the key impediments to more widespread adoption of these Chinese-developed solutions is lack of interoperability. Standardizing on UOF would allow documents created by any one of the application suites to be opened by all the others while still allowing the software to compete on features and functionality.
"It is not suitable to let the public and important information be controlled by a single vendor," said Ni Guangnan of the China Academy of Engineering, speaking at the Open Standards, IPR, and Innovation International Conference in Beijing in November. "If UOF, which based on XML, can be promoted, there would be a phase of equal competition in office software, and the good performance/price ratio of homemade office would be fully demonstrated."