OpenDocument Format Faces Uphill Battle, Despite IBM Support

IBM continued to increase its support for OpenDocument Format (ODF) with announcements made last month at DNUG. ODF, an XML-based format, is being positioned as an open alternative to the "proprietary" word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics formats of Microsoft Office.

Broad adoption of ODF is by no means assured. Microsoft has stated its opposition to ODF, preferring to incorporate a home-grown XML-based format into Office 2007. Although Office file formats are often cast as proprietary, their widespread use and reasonably-well-documented structures make them strong de facto standards. ODF faces an up-hill battle. Acceptance is likely to depend on the ease with which early adopters of ODF are able to exchange information with users of the dominant Microsoft Office applications.

If early users of ODF have difficulty exchanging information with the rest of the world, they will quickly become disenchanted and choose to use other tools and/or other formats for their documents. The main body of ODF users today use the open source OpenOffice.org office suite (AKA OOo). OOo also has mature support for reading and writing Microsoft’s proprietary Office file formats. OOo is the basis for Sun’s StarOffice and will also be a key part of a future version of Lotus Notes.

All in all, there are obstacle to ODF, but it’s too soon to call it a failure or a lost cause.

David Via and Richi Jennings

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