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OpenDocument Foundation abandons ODF

W3C alternative preferred in file format switch

A group formed to promote the ODF (Open Document Format) is abandoning its support of the file format in favour of a document format governed by the W3C, a move that throws a wrench into the already acrimonious business of creating one global file format for office documents.

The OpenDocument Foundation was formed five years ago to push the adoption of a universal file format for documents across software, hardware and devices. Until recently, the group was focused on the technology on which it based its existence: ODF, which is overseen by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and has been approved as a global standard by the International Organization for Standardization.

However, a recent blog posting by Sam Hiser, vice president and director of business affairs at the OpenDocument Foundation, outlines why the W3C's (World Wide Web Consortium's) CDF (Compound Document Format) is a more viable universal format than ODF.

The requirements include full compatibility with legacy Microsoft formats, including OOXML (Office Open XML), the format Microsoft created for its Office suite that it is promoting as a rival standard to ODF. Other requirements CDF meets better than ODF include convergence of desktops, servers and devices; cross-platform portability; and vendor independence, he wrote in his post.

Hiser said yesterday the OpenDocument Foundation began losing support for ODF in February when it became clear to them that Sun Microsystems, one of the biggest public supporters of the format, was more interested in making its own StarOffice suite - and OpenOffice, the open-source software it's based on - interoperable with Microsoft Office formats than making ODF work with the Office formats.

Hiser said he suspects Sun's notorious nearly $2bn payout from Microsoft over Java and other interoperability efforts may have something to do with the company's apparent disinterest in making ODF interoperable with OOXML, the format Microsoft created as the default file format for Office 2007.

"All Sun cares about is its application," he said. "Sun never thought of the format as being more important than the application. Sun's position has always been that interoperability with Microsoft formats is outside the scope of ODF."

Sun said these charges are simply not true, according to Doug Johnson, manager of the Corporate Standards Group at Sun. He said that Sun supports ODF across many of its technology platforms, and that the company remains committed to ensuring the interoperability of ODF with any rival document formats.

Still, Hiser said lacklustre support for ODF within the OASIS committee that is supposed to promote it has caused problems for promoting the adoption of ODF among enterprises and government agencies and is not consistent with the group's mission to promote a universal file format.

The decision to push CDF rather than ODF means the OpenDocument Foundation will be changing its name and most likely transforming itself into another company or organisation, he added, though he declined to say what the group's plans are.


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