Open Document Format Can Evolve Without Foundation Input

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-11-28 Print this article Print

Foundation President Gary Edwards lauds its work regarding the Massachusetts market requirements; others disagree.

Editors Note: This is the second in a series of articles that examine why the ODF Foundation closed down. The recent demise of the OpenDocument Foundation is not expected to have any impact whatsoever on the progress and adoption of the Open Document Format.

While the Foundations legacy is the subject of much debate, several commentators say its greatest contribution to the ODF movement was its enthusiastic early support for the document format, and little else.

"The controversy [around the Foundation] will not impact ODF, the ODF Alliance, or Office Open XML for that matter, as ODF is now much bigger ... than any one company or organization," Marino Marcich, the managing director of the ODF Alliance, an advocacy group that now has 480 member organizations in 53 countries, told eWEEK.

"It is really a global movement that includes vendors, NGOs and governments," he said.

Andy Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove and editor of the ConsortiumInfo standards blog, agreed with that assessment, noting however that there certainly were individuals who were associated with the Foundation that were real friends of ODF, and who made real contributions.

To read more about why the ODF Foundation shuttered its doors, click here.

"Unfortunately, the negative statements that the Foundations leaders made over the past six months, their general secretiveness and the abrupt way that they closed up shop with little or no explanation is likely to be what people will remember, rather than anything positive that they might have done during earlier days," he said.

But Gary Edwards, the founding president of the Foundation, said he believes that the work of those it sponsored to work on ODF 1.2 "has proven to be exceptional."


"The focus of the Foundation was that of sponsoring volunteers to work on the ODF 1.2 specification. Formula and Metadata are works largely achieved through the Foundations sponsorship of very talented individuals. But I think, though, that it will be the Massachusetts market requirement efforts that will stand the test of time as the most important work the Foundation ever did," Edwards told eWEEK.

The Foundation believed that some generic interoperability enhancements were necessary in order for ODF to meet the Massachusetts market requirements, which essentially were that ODF be enhanced to be compatible with existing Microsoft documents and interoperable with existing Microsoft Office applications and processes, he said.

Read more here about why Massachusetts threw its weight behind Office Open XML and the Open Document Format.

The Foundations solution was its ODF interoperability enhancer, known as Da Vinci, a plug-in for providing interoperability between ODF and Microsofts binary formats, all of which were voted down by OASIS in April 2007, he told eWEEK. OASIS is the body that "owns" the Open Document Format specification.

To read about how the document format dispute spilled into the open, click here.

But Edwards remains convinced that the OASIS ODF technical committee will have to come to terms with market realities and produce a subset of ODF that is able to meet the needs of Microsoft Office users wanting to convert their documents, applications and processes to ODF.

"The bottom line is that ODF was not designed for the conversion of Office documents, applications and processes," he said.

But the ODF Alliances Marcich bristled at this statement, pointing out that ODF is a multivendor format that does not exist purely for the benefit of a single vendor.

"To my knowledge, there are two plug-ins currently available-one from Microsoft/CleverAge and another from Sun Microsystems. Novell has integrated a version of the Microsoft/CleverAge translator into its flavor of OpenOffice. Developing translators to allow documents to be shared between ODF-supporting applications and Microsoft Office, as Sun and others have done, is pretty solid evidence in my book of support for interoperability between the formats," he said.

Marcich also pointed out that the Belgian government is using a plug-in that works well for it and that did not require a "rip and replace" approach.

To read about why Microsoft accused the ODF Alliance of not supporting choice, click here.

There also seems little likelihood that the Foundation will find life in a new form. Edwards said that when OASIS decided in December 2006 to no longer allow 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups to register, that ended the possibility of another Foundation rising from the ashes.

For his part, Marcich says new contributing organizations and individuals will always be welcomed by the OASIS Consortium and the ODF Alliance. Meanwhile, Updegrove said there is no need for another organization focused on creating a converter, as there are several converters in various stages of completion.

"Outside of conversion creation, there are plenty of existing nonprofit groups that are able to provide every category of support you can think of. And, of course, ODF has many nonprofit and for-profit friends, all of which are supporting it in various ways. So no, I dont think that theres any need for a new organization to fill a gap that doesnt exist," he told eWEEK.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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