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IBM undeterred by setbacks to ODF adoption

In an interview by China Martens of IDG News Service, Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of standards and open source, takes the long view of ODF adoption and claims there is no rivalry with Microsoft

IDGNS: What's your take on the defeat of legislation in several U.S. states that would've mandated the use of open document formats? Is it a setback for the adoption of ODF?

Sutor: We've seen this before around open standards. Take the Web itself. It went mainstream in about 1994 to 1995. If you trace it back, the Web was starting in the late 1980s. It takes most technology standards between 5 to 10 years to become established. They start in committees, come into their own, and then commercial interests come in. Web services kicked off in 2000, and we saw SOA in 2004 to 2005. Now, no one doubts that SOA is big business. In the same way, if you look back at ODF, you can go back to 2003 or 2005. It's still very, very early.

We wouldn't have thought it possible in 2005 that in 2007 there would even be any legislative considering of ODF. It's great that people are even talking about this in the first place. It's extremely early. Legislative committee talks take time. One year, a member proposes something, they meet that year on it, and the next meeting isn't until the next year. In some states like Texas they only meet every other year. I certainly expect the legislation to come back with a vengeance in the next sessions. Also, government IT policy makers aren't waiting for legislation, they're making active decisions. Changes are under way. Minnesota's bill will give a strong lead to other states.

IDGNS: Where do you think ODF is at in terms of your prediction of five to 10 years for a standard to establish itself?

Sutor: We're at about year three or four.

IDGNS: It seems as though IBM and Microsoft are pitted against each other with ODF versus Microsoft's OpenXML.

Sutor: The only one talking about a feud between Microsoft and IBM is Microsoft. On the ODF side, it's not just us, but we're a such a big company, we're going to say something. There's nothing whatsoever about ODF that particularly enables IBM. OpenOffice [an open-source office rival to Microsoft's Office] benefits; that's not our baby, we don't control it. We've put ourselves in a position where [with ODF] there are all the potential benefits of open source. It's interchangeability along with interoperability so if someone doesn't want to use someone's software, they can choose to use something else.

I absolutely don't see this as a feud for Microsoft and IBM. We provide chips for the Xbox, we have a large, if not the biggest, services business around .Net. There's no feud. ODF is in the Oasis [standards body]. Microsoft is on the board of directors of Oasis and has steadfastly refused to participate in ODF. We're happy for them to join and would welcome them with open arms.

IDGNS: Some potential users would like to see one single standard, a combination of ODF and OpenXML. Could that ever be a possibility?

Sutor: It's more a difference in technology. Microsoft XML technology is simply not good XML. Look at the English language. It's a bunch of letters, words, and grammar, and you can use the rules to form sentences. That's similar to XML. You can sit down to write a novel, and so can I. I might write the worst novel, and you write the best. Just using XML doesn't guarantee quality in the same way that using English doesn't guarantee great novels. Microsoft's XML doesn't take into account modern design and steadfastly ignores other XML standards.

I have a sneaking suspicion that OpenXML isn't the last format we'll hear from Microsoft. It's totally a personal thing, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a new XML from Microsoft in a few years and one with an architecture a lot like ODF. I could then see a natural convergence which could bring the two together. Focus Areas: BPEL | DITA | ebXML | IDtrust | OpenDocument | SAML | UBL | UDDI
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