ODF Gets an Official Fan Club

Supporters of the OASIS OpenDocument Format for Office Applications (ODF to its friends) got a little more organized last week with the formation of the ODF Alliance . The group is a coalition of more than 35 associations, academic institutions, and industry groups from around the world (complete membership list bellow) who have banded together to put some muscle behind the OASIS standard.

The group's manifesto is pretty straightforward: ''Through the use of a truly open standard file format that can be implemented by numerous and varied applications, the Alliance seeks to enable governments and their constituents to use, access and store critical documents, records and information both today and in the future, independent of the applications or enterprise platforms used for their creation or future access.''

Those who have been following the movement to stave off what Sun Microsystems ' chief open-source officer, Simon Phipps, has so sententiously tagged ''corporate Alzheimer’s''--and that should be everybody--will know that ODF is an open document file format for saving and exchanging editable text documents, spreadsheets, charts, and presentations. It's based on the XML-based file format originally created by OpenOffice.org. Its purpose is to guarantee long-term access to these documents without legal or technical barriers.

But OASIS isn't providing the only path to a multilateral baseline invariant file format. Microsoft appears to be offering the only alternative with its Office Open XML. By default, documents created in the next release of Microsoft Office products will be based on Open XML. In November Microsoft announced that it would submit Open XML to the European standards group, Ecma International, and from there to the International Standards Organization (ISO). Microsoft says it intends to document the format schema and allow third parties to write software that works with the files under a royalty-free license.

Despite protestations from ODF Alliance members that this issue shouldn't be cast in a contentious light, there are camps and lines have been drawn: ODF versus Open XML; a bunch of companies and organizations versus Microsoft.

It's a shame that it so often comes down to this particular scenario, especially when it comes to something as basic as settling on a standard document format. This isn't about a few grumpy Gusses who just found out they can't read their old WordStar docs. This is a fundamental challenge of the Information Age.

For those interested in joining, the ODF Alliance is open to just about anyone. Check out the org's Web site for more info.

The current Alliance membership roster includes:

- Adullact Association;

- American Library Association;

- Ark Linux;

- The Association of Open Source Suppliers and Vendors in Denmark;

- Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (India); -

 Cognitran Ltd; - Corel Corporation;

- CSW Group Ltd;

- EDS;

- EMC Corporation;

- Friends of OpenDocument, Inc.;

- GENICORP;

- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT);

- Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for the City of Vienna;

- IBM;

- Information Program, Open Society Institute;

- International Open Source Network;

- Justsystem Corporation;

- Massachusetts High Tech Council;

- Massachusetts Network Communications Council;

- Novell;

- Open Society Archives of the Central European University (OSA Archivum);

- OpenForum Europe;

- OpenDocument Fellowship;

- The OpenDocument Foundation, Inc.;

- OpenOffice.org;

- Opera Software;

- Optaros, Inc.;

- Oracle Corporation;

- OSS Alliance;

- Propylon Ltd;

- Red Hat, Inc.;

- Software & Information Industry Association;

- Sun Microsystems;

- the Technical University of Denmark

- tarent GmbH.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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