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OASIS gives Microsoft Office another punch with ODF Adoption Committee

OpenDocument was in the news again this week as OASIS launched a new committee designed to unseat proprietary file formats like Microsoft Office.

The smoke had not yet cleared from last week's OpenDocument Alliance news when a new group called the OASIS OpenDocument Adoption Committee fired a fresh volley against proprietary file standards.

The committee includes representatives of IBM, Novell Inc., and Sun Microsystems Inc., as well as government agencies like the National Informatics Centre of the Government of India and the Netherlands Tax and Customs Administration. Its intended purpose is to raise awareness of Open Document Format (ODF) and similar open standards to the point where a truly open file format can be provided as a robust alternative to proprietary formats like Microsoft Office.

Previously, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corp. -- all supporters of ODF -- said they would support the worldwide adoption of the open file standard through the creation of the ODF Alliance. The Alliance, which was launched last week, is a separate 35-member global network of vendors, academic institutions and government agencies.

New group on the block

Don Harbison, the proposed chairman of the committee, said that by raising awareness of the benefits of ODF, the committee will raise demand and availability of ODF-conforming products. This will result in a greater choice of tools and platforms and will expand the ODF community of users, suppliers and developers.

For more on the ODF debate:

ODF Alliance to fight looming 'digital Dark Age'

OpenDocument support reaffirmed by Mass. officials

"The life of a document may far exceed that of a particular software product or vendor. Users have a right to retain control over their work -- no matter when their documents were created or what tool was used to create them," Harbison said.

This view was shared by Sun Microsystems chief open source officer Simon Phipps, who said today's IT landscape could become a "digital Dark Age" if future users are unable to read today's closed file formats.

The committee's more specific tasks include the creation of white papers, FAQs and case studies. It will serve as a community-building resource by providing ODF information through the OASIS and Web sites. In addition, it will host proof-of-concept demonstrations to highlight cases of ODF with XML schemas and industry vocabularies that can be integrated with Web services.

The committee will coordinate its efforts with other ODF promotional groups around the world, including the recently formed ODF Alliance. Members of the ODF Alliance said the group intends to focus its efforts on influencing public policy through governments.

Digging deeper

Boston IP attorney Andy Updegrove, who has been an outspoken supporter of ODF on his blog at, wrote today that the OASIS announcement bears two important pieces of information.

First, Updegrove said that the educational component is important, as it will keep ODF in the news and will allow potential users access to accurate information about ODF.

The second component, said Updegrove, is that the committee will provide "yet another avenue by which the ongoing development of ODF is pledged to remain responsive to the desires and the needs of the marketplace."

Updegrove noted this approach stands in contrast to the terms by which Microsoft XML Reference Schema had been submitted to Ecma International, a European Standards group that provides applicants a path to adoption by global standards body ISO.

"At Ecma, the XML Reference Schema working group is tightly constrained by a charter that commands it to produce a specification that is tightly locked on Microsoft Office in its current and upcoming versions," Updegrove said.

ODF has made headlines before, when its adoption was hotly contested in Massachusetts in late 2005. The state's former CIO, Peter Quinn, reportedly resigned from his post due to what he considered an overly politicized debate that had strewn outside its IT roots.

However, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stated that support for ODF will continue even in Quinn's absence, and the state will remain on track to adopt it for all digital documentation in 2007.

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