A group of high-profile technology vendors have formalised plans to promote Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) as a global standard after a meeting at IBM last week, according to an IBM executive.
The companies, which met at an event hosted by IBM and Sun Microsystems, plan to form subcommittees within the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) Web standards consortium.
The first subcommittee could come together in the next several weeks, to address any technical issues that could preclude OpenDocument's use as a global standard, vice-president of standards and open source for IBM, Bob Sutor, said.
The OASIS subcommittee the group plans to form first was one that addressed making OpenDocument more suitable for applications that provided accessibility to computer software for disabled citizens, he said.
The group also was eyeing plans to put together a formal industry coalition to promote the use of OpenDocument, he said.
The meeting last Friday was attended by executives from IBM and Sun, as well as representatives from some of the technology industry's biggest names, such as Apple, Computer Associates International, Intel, Google, Red Hat, Corel, Oracle, Adobe, OpenOffice.org and Nokia, Sutor said.
Lawmakers in Massachusetts have raised concerns over OpenDocument's possible lack of compatibility with computer programs that provide disabled citizens with access to state documents as a stumbling block to a plan there to migrate all government agency documents to support OpenDocument.
The state's proposal, finalised by Massachusetts chief information officer, Peter Quinn, last month, calls for migrating government agencies from Microsoft's Office productivity suite and others based on proprietary document formats beginning January 1, 2007.
Quinn spoke at the meeting last week to weigh in on the accessibility issue and others surrounding the standard, Sutor said. "Peter felt he could have done a better job of talking to the accessibility community," he said. "It's an extremely valid issue and a global issue."
OpenDocument is a specification for standardizing documents based on an Extensible Markup Language (XML) file format developed within OASIS. It covers the features required by text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents.
Microsoft Office and other productivity suites such as Lotus Notes and WordPerfect that Massachusetts government agencies currently use support proprietary document formats. Suites that support OpenDocument include OpenOffice, StarOffice, KOffice and IBM Workplace.
OpenDocument proponents hope that widespread use of the standard, which Microsoft does not yet support, will spur adoption of software that competes with the company's Office productivity suite.
"Is this a competitive move? Absolutely," senior analyst with RedMonk , Stephen O'Grady, said.
O'Grady, who attended Friday's meeting, continued: "The [Office document] format is a control point for Microsoft and has been for years. OpenDocument gives more vendors a chance to participate and compete."
Though the Massachusetts case is certainly important to OpenDocument proponents, Sutor stressed that IBM and Sun called last week's meeting to begin a global effort to promote the standard, not just to support one state's proposal.
"To be clear, this was not a meeting to convert anyone who might be an OpenDocument critic into being an advocate," he said. "This was very much a working group of like-minded people who think that what is going on with OpenDocument is a good thing. ... We want to make sure it's an extremely inclusive, global effort, not just in North America."
Other subcommittees the group is considering forming within OASIS are one to handle OpenDocument's support of digital rights management, and another for how companies can ensure their applications are compliant with the standard, Sutor said.
IBM was currently working on a proposal for a formal OpenDocument coalition and planned to get back to the participating companies within the next several weeks, He said.