OpenDocument (Open Document Format for Office Applications) is the new default XML-based file format for the forthcoming open-source office suite OpenOffice.org 2.0.
Although based on the OpenOffice.org 1.x format, which was submitted to OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) in 2002 by Sun Microsystems Inc., OpenDocument is not compatible with the OpenOffice 1.x formats.
Version 2.0 is not just meant to be another office-suite file format: Its meant to be an open format that can be used by any office suite. In particular, its designed to not tie businesses data to a particular program or version of a program.
"Office productivity applications and the documents they create are key to todays knowledge economy. Information critical to the long-term functioning of any organization is stored in the spreadsheets, presentations and text documents its employees create," said Michael Brauer, a technical lead at Sun and chair of the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee.
For once, IBM and Sun see eye to eye.
"IBM recognizes the importance of a standards-based document format. Use of open, non-proprietary formats will facilitate seamless collaboration between vendors, customers and partners and ensure the maintenance of corporate and government knowledge," said Karla Norsworthy, IBMs vice president of Software Standards.
OpenDocument is made up of a single XML schema for text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents. It makes use of existing standards, such as HTML, SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) and XForms, and was designed so that it can be used as a default file format for other office applications.
Microsoft Corp. also uses XML in its most recent Microsoft Office formats. While it has opened these formats to some extent, Microsofts XML formats are still proprietary and it has tried to patent some of its XML format technology. Microsoft also charges royalties for accessing its formats.
"XML doesnt always mean open. You can hide a lot in a file format. OpenDocument represents an opportunity to ensure truly open file formats for productivity applications," said James Governor, principal analyst at RedMonk.
"The participation of enterprises in vertical industries, such as aerospace, will also ensure [OpenDocument] adoption in the private sector," Governor said. "One key to success will be the royalty-free status of the spec; there are no financial penalties associated with developing to it."
Indeed, Red Hat Inc. cites OpenDocuments royalty-free licensing as one of the reasons why it supports the new format.
This "royalty-free license approach will encourage both collaboration and widespread adoption," said Mark Webbink, Red Hats deputy general counsel.
"Red Hat has already incorporated this open standard into the Fedora Core release and will be incorporating it into our Red Hat Enterprise line of Linux solutions in the near future," Webbink added.
"OpenDocument is a fine example of an OASIS Standard that originated in and continues to be endorsed by the open-source community," said Patrick Gannon, president and CEO of OASIS in a statement.
"Now that OpenDocument has been approved as an OASIS Standard, we look forward to its robust use by the many organizations and governments from around the world that have been calling for an open, safe, standardized schema for office documents," Gannon said.
Future plans for the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee include extending OpenDocument to encompass additional areas of applications and users, as well as adapting it to incorporate new developments in office applications.