Open Documents Get Unanimous Nod

The International Standards Organization (ISO) blessed the OpenDocument Format (ODF) in a rousing 23-0 vote this week, making the digital document format a worldwide standard.

ISO’s blessing is widely expected to serve as a springboard for ODF adoption around the globe.

ODF, an alternative to proprietary formats, is an open standard that allows text, spreadsheet and presentation files to work with one another even if they were created with different vendors’ applications.

ODF addresses the concern that, as documents and services are migrated from paper to electronic form, governments and other public agencies may not be able to read important documents if they are not all using a common file format.

The spec has been white-hot in recent months, with various companies and organizations uniting to rally support for ODF in the face of Microsoft.

While not opposed to ODF, Microsoft does not support it outright.

According to Jason Matusow, Microsoft director of standards affairs, the ODF format is limited to the features and performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy most of our Microsoft Office customers today.

Microsoft employs different formats in current versions of Office and will not offer native support of ODF in its pending Office 12 release this year.

“Yet we will support interoperability with ODF documents as they start to appear and will not oppose its standardization or use by any organization,” Matusow said in a statement.

Microsoft is wending its own path in the standards process after submitting its own digital document specification, Office Open XML, to ECMA International with the hope it will one day become an ISO standard.

Meanwhile, the ODF Alliance, which includes IBM, Sun Microsystems and a host of other vendors and groups, applauded ISO’s blessing of ODF.

“Approval of the OpenDocument Format by ISO marks an important milestone in the effort to help governments solve the very real problem of finding a better way to preserve, access and control their documents now and in the future,” said Marino Marcich, executive director of the ODF Alliance, in a statement.

Matusow was less enthusiastic about the passage, but welcomed the competition in a statement.

“The richness of competitive choices in the market is good for our customers and for the industry as a whole,” he said.

Matusow also noted that no one XML schema can meet the needs of all government and businesses, and said the progress of ODF and Open XML in the standardization processes is “further evidence of the impact that XML will have on the industry as a whole.”

ODF emerged from work done at the open source project. This work was later further developed at OASIS, where it was accepted as an official OASIS standard in May 2005.

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