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IBM Joins OpenOffice Group, Contributes Code

After years of being an OpenOffice supporter, IBM announced Monday it has finally joined the OpenOffice.org community. As part its commitment, Big Blue will contribute the derivative OpenOffice code that it has written for use in Lotus Notes to the organization's open source code base.

Finally having full support for the open source office productivity suite, backers hope IBM's clout will give OpenOffice the kind of momentum needed to break Microsoft Office's hegemony in the desktop productivity suite market.

IBM will also merge the community code back into Notes, though that may take nine months or more, according to a company official. For one thing, IBM just shipped Notes 8 last month. Big Blue will also dedicate engineering and development resources to work on the community code base.

Given that IBM has been involved with OpenOffice more than just peripherally for some time already, one question remains: Why join now?

"We're very much a believer that there are a number of important market conditions and technologies today that we can transcend beyond [Microsoft] Office's hegemony," Doug Heintzman, directory of strategy for IBM collaboration technologies, told InternetNews.com. Those conditions and technologies include the growing popularity of Web services, the use of service-oriented architectures and emerging XML document formats, he said.

The moves are part of a much larger play by IBM and other surviving competitors, including Sun Microsystems, to try once again to rein in Microsoft. For instance, IBM announced last month that it will offer Sun's Solaris operating system on x86 servers. Both companies were also among the loudest complainants to the European Commission in its antitrust proceedings against Microsoft.

Additionally, IBM has been vociferous about its efforts to block Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) from gaining recognition at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). That opposition contributed to OOXML's defeat in ISO voting in early September, a move aimed at achieving standards status on a "fast-track" basis.

And IBM has long been a promoter of the competing technology to OOXML, OpenDocument Format or ODF, which is already an ISO standard and Open Office's default file format.

"The time was right to step in and catalyze the industry," Heintzman said.

But will the plan succeed? After all, OpenOffice has been around for several years but hasn't made serious headway against Office.

"IBM is credible and that removes the cloud [of uncertainty] over OpenOffice," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com.

However, he cautions, there are plenty of reasons there could be slips in execution, not least of which has been longstanding competition between IBM and Sun (which originated OpenOffice.org).

"IBM and Sun have not collaborated well in the past," Enderle added.