IBM, Sun Team To Support OpenDocument

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IBM and Sun Microsystems will host a private meeting Friday to rally industry support for OpenDocument, a specification for standardizing documents that proponents hope will spur adoption of software that competes with the Microsoft Office productivity suite.

The meeting, which is scheduled to take place at the IBM Learning Center in Armonk, New York, is aimed at discussing with other technology companies ways to advance the adoption of OpenDocument, said Todd Martin, an IBM spokesperson, on Wednesday.

"The meeting is for those industry partners who are interested in implementing and advancing the OpenDocument specification," Martin said.

Compatibility Sought

Topics and questions "that need immediate attention" from the industry at the meeting, include the idea that vendors supporting OpenDocument could form a foundation around the technology. They may also create a reference implementation that companies can use to test their software for compatibility. The details are an invitation for the meeting posted online, which Martin confirmed was authentic.

The invitation also notes that discussion on whether proponents should become more active in public policy or communications campaigns to promote OpenDocument could be discussed.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium currently oversees the OpenDocument specification, the full name of which is Open Document Format for Office Applications.

Industry Supporters

Bob Sutor, IBM vice president of standards and open source, and Simon Phipps, chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems, will co-chair the meeting, Martin said. Other companies that will be in attendance include Novell and Red Hat, which both support OpenDocument.

As further proof it is committed to promoting OpenDocument, Sun Tuesday introduced a Sun Grid utility service that enables anyone with a Web browser to automatically convert proprietary documents to OpenDocument.

OpenDocument has been a closely watched standard lately due to a high-profile proposal by the state of Massachusetts to support the standard for all of its government documents beginning in January 2007. Massachusetts Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn released in October a final version of the office of the governor's Enterprise Technical Reference Model, which outlines the proposed changes.

The proposal calls for Massachusetts government agencies to develop phased migration plans away from productivity suites that do not support OpenDocument, such as Microsoft Office, which supports XML and proprietary document formats. Productivity suites that support OpenDocument include OpenOffice, Sun's StarOffice, KOffice, and IBM Workplace.

Quinn and other Massachusetts officials are also expected to attend the meeting in New York Friday, IBM's Martin said.

Massachusetts Move Challenged

The meeting comes at a crucial time for the Massachusetts OpenDocument plan. It hit a snag recently because government officials and some citizens oppose the proposal because they claim, among other things, that OpenDocument is incompatible with a computer program the state's disabled citizens use to access public documents.

On Monday the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight in Massachusetts listened to arguments both for and against moving forward with the OpenDocument initiative, but nothing was decided that would halt the state's plan. The hearing was called by State Senator Marc Pacheco, a Taunton, Massachusetts, Democrat, who said in an interview last week he shared the concerns of disabled citizens, and also was worried that the proposal violates state policies for procuring IT services.

A group that also is actively working against the proposal is the Initiative for Software Choice, which is overseen by the Computer Technology Industry Organization.

Mike Wendy, grassroots and media relations manager for the Initiative for Software Choice, said the group is not opposed to OpenDocument itself, but to any technology procurement mandate that requires the use of open-source software as a preference over commercial software.

"We are concerned about the proliferation of proposals that seek to mandate only open-source software in state laws," he said.

Wendy acknowledged that Microsoft is an active member of the initiative, but said the group also supports open-source software and its proponents.

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