Editor's Desk | ODF gains ground

Wyatt Kash

The freedom to create and manage documents in the digital age has often meant living with a fundamental limitation: The information was chained to the application in which the documents were created. As new applications shoved aside older products, rendering many obsolete, millions of documents'and years of work'were often held hostage by the need to convert to new formats.

Two recent developments could mark a turning point in the decade-long battle to liberate documents from their applications. And government customers, who stand to benefit, deserve much of the credit.

First was the approval in early May by the International Standards Organization of the Open Document Format as an international standard for saving and exchanging common digital office documents. Then came the news earlier this month that Microsoft Corp. was offering tools and funds to build Open XML Translator, a bridge between its Open XML format and ODF. The announcements reflect a tectonic shift reshaping the world of office documents.

Tremors from that shift rumbled last year in Massachusetts, after the mandate that state government documents be saved in the vendor-neutral, open format. The edict, specifying the Extensible Markup Language-based ODF managed by an alliance that includes Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and others, unleashed a firestorm of controversy.

Microsoft, whose products did not support ODF, saw the obvious threat and objected. The company claimed its own Open XML'the default format for the 2007 Office release of Word, Excel and PowerPoint'met the state's needs.

Massachusetts, in effect, fired a new shot heard 'round the world: Governments and other organizations need documents that will function for generations in a variety of uses.

Microsoft's move with Open XML Translator signals new urgency to address the need for interoperable open formats.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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