ODF Alliance Growth Spurt Sprouts a Director

I sort of waylaid Marino Marsich on his first official day on the job yesterday. Marsich is the newly appointed managing director of the newly formed ODF Alliance , and he gave me some time on the phone from his newly established office in Washington, DC. (Did I mention that he's new?)

As regular readers will know, the ODF Alliance was formed about six weeks ago with 36 member orgs to promote the proliferation of the OASIS OpenDocument Format for Office Applications. The group this week announced a major growth spurt that added 102 new members to the roster.

Marsich's job is, of course, to implement the goals of the Alliance, which include educating policy makers on the benefits and opportunities of the ODF and working to see it used by governments and other organizations. He has a varied constituency to serve—a plurality of the Alliance membership is based in Europe—but he seems to have the right background for the job: He worked for the US State Department on the policy planning staff, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the European Commission in Brussels.

''You could say that I've been involved in various efforts at the cross-section of trade and technology standards for more than a decade,'' he told me.

The Alliance is now actively supporting adoption of the ODF as a worldwide ISO (International Standards Organization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standard. But Marsich says the group is going to do more than sound the clarion call for office doc standards and lobby the ratifiers. In addition to providing resources like cost models and guidance for governments assessing migration options, the Alliance plans to provide actual tools for adoption. There are a few on the Alliance Web site right now developed by its members, with more to come, Marsich said.

''This is a marketplace in which the mantra of industry is now 'openness and interoperability,''' Marsich said. ''There's broad interest out there for open systems and open document formats. The central challenge is to overcome the fear of change. We've lived in a world of proprietary formats now for more than 20 years, and the default of most CIOs is to stay in that world. But find me a CIO of any organization who really wants to be in a closed system based on proprietary document formats. You can't do it. Our core task is to show them that they have a choice.''

But the question (now that it has been asked) is no longer whether we need a standard document format, but which one. The other proposed standard—the one that is, for all intents and purposes, that default—is Microsoft's Office Open XML, which is currently in the hands of the European standards group Ecma International, from whence it will wend its own way to ISO. Microsoft says it intends to document the format schema and allow third parties to write software for it under a royalty-free license.

''Right now Open XML is more of a faith-based initiative,'' Marsich said. ''It's being submitted to a standards body prior to the completion of the specification. They [Ecma] are being asked to support a spec that hasn't really been developed yet.''

(Faith-based initiative. I'm not laughing.... I'm not.)

''Look, documents are now being created by people's thumbs and on telephones, not just laptops and your machines,'' Marsich added. ''With so many documents being created on so many different platforms and with so many different applications, the demand for interoperability is only going to grow. And that's the chief advantage of the ODF. People want the ability to access, retrieve, and use their records without regard to the platform or application. So I'd have to say that favorable conditions exist right now for the ODF to win hearts and minds out there.''

Final decision on the ISO ratification of the ODF is right around the corner. The balloting began in November and ends the first week of May.

I'll keep you posted.

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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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