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IBM Open to Office Docs

If you think IBM would support a standard that could shake Microsoft's desktop dominance, you're right.

Big Blue today agreed to support the OpenDocument Format for Office Applications (ODF) desktop standard in its next version of Workplace Managed Client, a rich-client office productivity suite for creating, editing and sharing word-processing, spreadsheet and other documents.

ODF, created by OASIS and recognized by the International Standards Organization, is an open format for office productivity suite content. Supporters of ODF say the approach allows productivity suites to work with disparate applications instead of relying on traditional Office desktop software from Microsoft.

The state of Massachusetts is considering a move to ODF, which is a big deal because it could spur others to move from Microsoft Office to the open format for more flexibility.

When Workplace Managed Client 2.6 appears next year, word processing, graphs and spreadsheets editor tools will let users send, receive and rewrite files saved in the ODF standard. Workplace Managed Client had previously supported OpenOffice as its default productivity format, along with Microsoft Office.

With Workplace Managed Client, a Web administrator creates an account for an employee on a server. The employee can then access that server and obtain the desktop code for document management, e-learning, messaging and instant messaging provisioned over the Web to his or her desktop.

Art Fontaine, manager for WorkPlace Manager Client in IBM's Lotus division, said IBM is endorsing ODF as an alternative to remove interoperability as a barrier to desktop productivity.

"While everybody could read and write Microsoft formats to the degree to which they could decipher the file formats, there's always some part of Office that is not decipherable or public, or is retained by Microsoft," he continued.

"If somebody writes and saves to the OpenDocument format, then any other OpenDocument-compliant product could read and write it right down to the macro level."

After all, the more data that corporations create, the more important it is for them to have software that can find specific documents in a pinch. Financial records, government contracts, payroll data and other types of corporate information should be more accessible with ODF and Workplace Managed Client.

Fontaine said interest in ODF and open source technologies is high in emerging markets where Microsoft Office isn't necessarily so pervasive, including India, Brazil, Russia and China.

"These people have a responsibility to avoid getting themselves boxed into a place where the content they create gets locked out from any of their constituents because it's an old file format or because it requires the newest software to read," Fontaine said.

"When something's written in OpenDocument, it's going to be readable and writable across time and vendor implementations.

Microsoft recently had an answer for ODF, submitting its Microsoft Office Open XML file format to Ecma International as an open-standard submission with the hope it will one day become an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard.

The file format is the underlying document standard to be used in the next edition of Office.