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IBM to support OpenDocument early next year

Big Blue says support for the standard and Web-centric design of desktop software will appeal to emerging markets.

IBM plans to support early next year the OpenDocument standard in its desktop software, a product the company intends to market aggressively in developing countries.

At a press conference in Delhi, India, IBM executives plan to announce Monday that the company's Workplace Managed Client will be able to read, write and save documents in the OpenDocument format. OpenDocument, or ODF, is a standard set of document formats for desktop productivity applications.

IBM has already publicly endorsed OpenDocument, which the company views as a way to loosen Microsoft's dominance over desktop software. But the forthcoming Workplace products will be the first from IBM to support OpenDocument, a standard ratified in May of this year.

In a high-profile case, the state of Massachusetts in September decided to standardize desktop applications on OpenDocument.

That decision, however, is being contested by other branches of the state government. The governor's office last week said it is "optimistic" that Microsoft's Office formats, once standardized, will meet the state guidelines for "open formats."

Rather than create an analog to Microsoft Office, IBM is offering editors for creating documents, spreadsheets or presentations within a Web browser. Documents are delivered via a Web portal and stored in shared directories. Access control and document management tools allow people to share and edit documents with others.

Until now, Workplace supported the formats from open-source product OpenOffice, from which the OpenDocument was derived. Workplace Managed Client software also can read, write and edit documents created with Microsoft Office.

Arthur Fontaine, the marketing manager for Workplace Managed Client, believes IBM's support for industry standards and the server-centric design of Workplace will appeal to customers in developing countries, particularly governments.

"The governments of India, China and other emerging markets are very interested in this," Fontaine said. "They don't have the legacy of having everything saved in Microsoft Office to transition from...This is an opportunity to start out right."

In response to requests from government customers, Microsoft last month said it will submit the file formats for Office 12 to standards bodies ECMA International and ISO.

A representative for India's National Informatics Center (NIC) said in a statement that the country is pursuing a technology policy of "open standards and open source."

"The NIC has received a mandate from the Central Department of Information Technology to work in the areas of standards to facilitate implementation of the National e-Governance Program in the country," said M. Moni, deputy director general of India's NIC. "The choice, flexibility and reliability inherent in open standards like ODF are critical in our efforts to drive the eGovernance momentum in the country."

IBM has been testing the Workplace Managed Client software for the past year. With the release next year, the product will be generally available, Fontaine said.