IBM, Sun to create 'OpenDocument Foundation'?

Two companies will hold a meeting this week to evangelize adoption of the document format, which Microsoft does not support.

IBM and Sun Microsystems are considering forming a foundation to increase adoption of the OpenDocument format, which is emerging as a threat to Microsoft's dominant Office suite of software.

The two companies will host a one-day conference on Friday to "coordinate the technical and strategic advancement" of OpenDocument and its "implementation in products by many vendors," according to an invitation posted to the Web.

OpenDocument, officially called the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications, is a specification that defines how office documents are stored and shared.

The document format has caught the interest of some governmental bodies, including the state of Massachusetts, which has adopted a policy to standardize on OpenDocument and to move away from Microsoft Office, which does not support the format. That decision has been criticized by some state officials and is being reviewed.

Peter Quinn, Massachusetts' chief information officer, is the keynote speaker at Friday's meeting, which will be held at the IBM Learning Center in Armonk, N.Y., according to the invitation, which was confirmed by IBM. The meeting was convened by IBM's vice president of standards, Bob Sutor, and Sun's chief open-source officer, Simon Phipps.

IBM and Sun are strong supporters of OpenDocument and participate in its development through OASIS. In fact, the two companies are involved in a proposal to create a technical committee at OASIS to make OpenDocument-based products better suited for people with disabilities.

In the past year, OpenDocument, which became a standard in May, has emerged as a competitive threat to Microsoft's dominance in the market for desktop productivity applications.

IBM, Novell, Sun and other companies already support or intend to support the standard in their desktop products. Microsoft, meanwhile, does not intend to support OpenDocument in an update to Office due at the end of next year.

"There exists a historic opportunity for a group of like-minded companies, organizations, communities and individuals to drive widespread adoption of open document format standards," the invitation states.

Software companies Novell, Corel, Adobe Systems and Google have voiced support for OpenDocument as well as open-source organizations.

Topics planned for discussion include the possible formation of an "OpenDocument Foundation" to evangelize the use of OpenDocument and the possible creation of an "ODF Reference Platform," modeled on the Web Services Interoperability Organization, to ensure consistent implementation of the specification.

An IBM representative on Tuesday noted that the meeting invitation does not constitute an official proposal to create a foundation. The group also intends to potentially coordinate public-policy initiatives "to create broad and deep awareness of the issues at stake" regarding OpenDocument.

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