The growing acceptance of digital documents around the globe has led to a skirmish that might make this movement a new challenge for the channel.
At the crux of the fight, from my interpretation of it, is a battle between proprietary versus open. In one corner there is Microsoft with its Office Open XML (OOXML). The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant created an Open XML translator that would enable users to convert documents between OOXML and open digital documents.
In the blue corner, as you will, is IBM, which supports Open Document Format or ODF. ODF is a file format for digital documents produced using the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, which unless you've lived under a rock for many years includes spreadsheets, powerpoint and word documents. ODF was created by a group called OASIS or Open Office XML technical committee. I don't know how they get OASIS from that, but if you want more info on them check out their Web site (www.oasis-open.org/).
Microsoft doesn't appear to be behaving in a pro-proprietary way, but IBM isn't taking any chances and is positioning ODF as an "open" alternative to proprietary formats such as DOC. I can understand if Microsoft has its back up, but as a 100 per cent channel friendly company it should consider the channel fallout in this fight.
Both IBM and Microsoft and allies in the fight to establish a digital document standard. Governments are waiting to see what standard gets established. It is at this point, the channel will have to augment existing deployment if OOXML gets established. Channel partners are in the trenches. They're dealing with documents all the time. They have to help their clients produce them, protect them and archive them. Compliance is another issue that the channel has to deal with for its customers.
Document interchange will have to stand the test of time. Let's face it, those documents will not be paper based in the future. An IBM executive told me that if you're dealing with term insurance that document may have to sit idle for 40 to 50 years and then be activated (in the case of a death). If it is stored digitally, accessing that file will be critical for all parties involved.
A channel partner will have to figure that out for a customer. To give you an example of challenges these two standards pose on a channel partner you just have to look at each others supporting document. OASIS is 800 pages, while Microsoft's is more than 6,000.
Both IBM and Microsoft should get on the same page here because digital documents are here to stay. Fighting over who has control of them in the end will put a huge strain on the channel. The channel will have to work many man hours covering their bases on both potential standards. Those hours, in many cases, are not billable. If governments adopt one standard over the other then many channel partners will have to switch over and do it quickly to maintain good customer relationships.
The time is now for this silly fight to end.