Sun Pushes for Greater Adoption of OpenDocument Format

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-12-14 Print this article Print

Sun's chief open-source officer says customers shouldn't have to continually buy document software in order to keep their information and documents alive.

People want to be able to store their information for the long term without having to continually pay to upgrade their document software to maintain this or be forced to accept the alternative: that this data will passively disappear over time if they do not do that, Sun Microsystems Inc. officials said Wednesday. The solution to this conundrum is a mechanism that does not require customers to continue to buy document software in order to keep their information and documents alive—essentially a multilaterally implemented baseline file format like the ODF (OpenDocument Format), said Simon Phipps, Suns chief open-source officer, at a news event at Suns San Francisco offices Wednesday. This discussion was the latest salvo in the controversy around the ODF and the Microsoft Corp.-sponsored proposal that was last week accepted by Ecma International to produce a standard for office productivity applications that is compatible with Microsofts Office Open XML Formats.
The ODF (OpenDocument Format) is an XML-based OASIS international office document standard used to store data from desktop applications, such as word processing, presentation and spreadsheet software.
It is meant to enable the free exchange of data between OpenDocument-compliant software packages. The ODF file format is also designed to be compatible with Microsoft Office, as the technical committee working on this knew it was going to be used to import and export a lot of Microsoft Office documents, Phipps said, adding that he did not believe the format would end up as an archival format. Sun executives were unified in their call for all global governments, agencies as well as private enterprises, to adopt the ODF standard and, when asked why more in the public and private sector were not doing so, they said they were all closely watching the situation in Massachusetts. To read more about Massachusetts decision to mandate use of the OpenDocument format, click here. Also held Wednesday was an Open Forum on the Future of Electronic Data Formats for the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Asked what both the public and private sector could be doing around this right now, Phipps said they should implement a consistent document standard, while also starting to undertake pilots with those productivity suites that used the ODF standard to see how viable this would be for their organization. "Now is the time to start your pilots and start testing, because you are going to want to switch to the multilateral file format when that happens," he said. Sun is already testing in Germany a document conversion service that converts Word files into ODF, essentially a Web interface that converts them, he said, adding that this technology was not developed as a result of the agreement reached between Sun and Microsoft earlier this year. Read more here about the settlement between Microsoft and Sun. "We didnt have the standstill agreement that came with that agreement when we started doing this work, and that [standstill clause] will expire over time, and I dont believe it will have any impact on this conversion tool," he said. Microsoft, by refuting Oasis and the ODF and instead choosing to get international standards body Ecma to approve its file format standard, continues to embrace a proprietary and closed approach, he added. "By getting its specification approved by a standards body that does not allow individual members is a strategy to make sure that Microsoft continues to control that standard and thus prevent it from becoming a baseline. At the same time, Microsoft is also trying to prevent a multilateral file format from being implemented," Phipps said. Next Page: Governments role.

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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