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What Is OpenDocument
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ODF Is an Open Standard

As an example of an open software standard, OpenDocument adheres to the following criteria in its modes of development and use:

  • open, collaborative development of the specification
  • public access to meetings about the specification
  • easy implementation by software developers in their own software
  • freedom from patent or licensing restrictions
  • interoperability with any software system designed to work with ODF
  • no proprietary dependencies or single-vendor functionality

Any format that does not adhere to all of these criteria cannot be considered an open standard.

ODF Is Not Open Source, Nor Is It Free Software

But it is open and free. The OpenDocument Format is a specification; an OpenDocument file does not become software, per se, or take form in a file until some software application creates or changes it. OpenDocument Format, being an open standard, can be implemented in open source and free software applications, as well as commercial applications.

Therefore, the license under which the OpenDocument-ready application is distributed does not impact the license of, access to, or redistribution of OpenDocument, the specification. (Although it does impact the access to specific OpenDocument-ready applications.)

It suffices to say that there is a mature, downloadable open source office suite that offers the OpenDocument format as its native default ( 2.0); and there is a mature commercial application that offers OpenDocument, too (StarOffice 8). Accordingly, software licenses, business models, or software development models do not restrict access to organizations seeking to use the OpenDocument Format.

ODF Is Approved for Use in Free Software

Recently, the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) issued a legal opinion that ODF is free of legal encumbrances that would prevent its use in free and open source software, as distributed under licenses authored by Apache and the Free Software Foundation--including the GNU/GPL and Apache software licenses.

In no way does this opinion indicate that there is any question about ODF's usability with commercial software. ODF is therefore free to be used and deployed in open source, free software and commercial software, with the same rights available to everyone developing software that interoperates with the OpenDocument Format.

Software Applications Offering ODF

Sun Microsystems engineers Daniel Vogelheim and Michael Breuer gave us the reference implementations of OpenDocument in the early versions of OpenOffice and StarOffice beginning in 1999, so the specification may contain some technologies to which Sun Microsystems retains the rights (none have been specifically declared). Yet Sun offers a perpetual and reciprocal royalty-free license for the OpenDocument specification (just in case there is a question).

Presently, the "Big Four" mature applications that offer ODF as a default file-format option include:

  • 2.0.3
  • StarOffice 8
  • IBM Lotus Workplace Managed Client version 2.6
  • KWord 1.5

Other applications offer some (but incomplete) ODF support today. They include the web-based word processors Writely (from Google), Zoho Writer, and ajaxWrite, as well as the Mac version of, called NeoOffice. You can track the progress of these products and find new additions to the category on Wikipedia under the OpenDocument software heading.

Additionally, software from document collaboration companies--including Alfresco--are starting to show up on the lists of entities associated with ODF.

The market presence of multiple new office software products based on the OpenDocument Format is a sufficient indication that growing confidence in ODF, and the belief that an open format is capable of competing against the Microsoft formats, are already driving more choice and lower prices into the office-suite software market.

Adoption of ODF

At the time of this article's publication, the number of entities worldwide that have openly expressed support for ODF through the ODF Alliance (the Washington, D.C.-based principal lobbying group) is fluid and growing. The ODF Alliance was formed in the autumn of 2005 and, as IBM's Open Source and Open Standards VP, Bob Sutor said, "Since the news broke of [Google] joining, the ODF Alliance membership went up from 20 to about 260." Contrast this with their modest aspirations back when ODF was beginning to gain momentum: when the Alliance was first formed, Sutor said it was considered positive that there were as many as 10 founding members.

If the ODF Alliance is any reflection of interest in vendor-neutral file formats, then adoptions will be deep and wide in coming years. The complete and growing list of Alliance members is here. And, below, you'll find a gloss of the earliest movers at the municipal or state government level.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Instead of legislating for an open office document standard, Massachusetts' Executive Department Information Technology Division ("ITD") took two years to formulate a responsible and thoughtful policy for defining many open software standards and dates by which they should be implemented. This policy initiative--the Enterprise Technical Reference Model version 3.5 (PDF) ("ETRM 3.5")--went public at the end of August 2005 and was finalized in late September, after public comments were taken into account.

The Commonwealth's ITD has been making progress since ETRM 3.5 became final on a) a Pilot Program to test ODF-ready software applications, b) developing a professional cost model, and c) managing relationships with Massachusetts accessibility groups who would be affected by alterations in the way state agencies work with office documents. The CIO of ITD, Louis Gutierrez, recently affirmed the go-live date (January 1, 2007) for the implementation ODF across Executive Department agencies--"Mass. holding tight to OpenDocument" (Martin Lamonica - c|net, July 7, 2006). With many CIOs around the world looking in on the progress in the Commonwealth, the affirmation has been an external confidence boost, while internally, political opponents of Governor Mitt Romney and the Microsoft lobby remain active and continue to try different strategies to dampen ITD's pursuit of ODF.

The State of Minnesota

Minnesota has legislation pending that would enforce policies toward standardization around ODF in state government offices. Characteristic of legislation initiatives, this could take another year to gain traction, if it is ultimately successful at all.

The State of California

Like the U.S. Department of Defense, the State of California is no stranger to open source and free software, which are being generally implemented throughout California state agencies, most commonly on servers in the form of Linux or the BSDs. The state is among the most curious about ODF and how the document format can provide a stepping stone for more modular systems and eventually, for desktop software neutrality.

Bristol City Council (England)

The Bristol City Council is well under way with an implementation of StarOffice across its approximately 5,500 Windows desktop machines. This makes Bristol an ODF location by default because StarOffice is among the principal ODF-ready office suites.


Belgium's Council of Ministers recently announced a policy to go with ODF as the standard for exchanging documents within the government. Belgium's federal services must use ODF when exchanging documents, though other formats will still be allowed for internal use.


Danish Member of Parliament Morten Helveg Petersen introduced a draft of a motion in the Danish Parliament supporting the use of open standards in Danish government. Later, the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation announced in May 2005 the commencement of a six-month trial period for evaluating ODF-ready software. And from September 1, 2006, online and written publications will be available in the OpenDocument Format. These developments seem to have been influenced by John Goetze's "Special Report" (here, in Danish), a December 2005 analysis of the economic effects of open standards. The report concludes that while it's difficult to estimate the precise costs and benefits of implementing open standards, there are strong reasons for making open standards compulsory in government where interoperability is at stake.


The French National Police (Gendarmerie) adopted OpenOffice last year as part of the transition of most of its 100,000 PCs to open source software. Other agencies in France are reported to be planning migrations to OpenDocument-ready software, too. Also, the country's General Repository for Interoperability (RGI) is recommending ODF as the standard format for office documents and seeks to make it mandatory for exchanging documents in ODF.

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