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IBM: "Dear Governor Romney"
Monday, December 05 2005 @ 04:19 PM EST

If you thought for a minute that the ODF discussion had come to a halt, think again. IBM made a move today, the details of which Andy Updegrove provides on his blog. IBM's Michael D. Rhodin, General Manager, Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Software sent a letter to Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

The letter begins like this:
Dear Governor Romney:

I'd like to share some information on an exciting new IBM product that was built in Massachusetts but is expected to have implications on both a national and international level.

Today, IBM extended its support for open standards by announcing a new software product designed to fully support the OASIS OpenDocument Format for Office Applications (ODF). Designed at IBM's development lab in Westford, Massachusetts, the IBM Workplace Managed Client will help protect an organization's investment in corporate data by promoting consistency, reliability and open accessibility of its documents.

The letter informs the governor that IBM's customers "are demanding choice and control over their information technology," which is why IBM builds on open standards. It mentions the analysis done in France after switching to software based on open standards in the tax agency, which is saving the agency 20m per year. I am happy to tell you that I have just done an interview with the head of the tax agency, and it will be ready shortly. But I can confirm that this is exactly the figure he provided me in the interview.

And the letter "commends the administration for the continuing and exhaustive open process that has been employed in evaluating the best technology solutions for the citizens of the Commonwealth." Hint hint. Updegrove:

In short, Rhodin says (as did Bob Sutor in a letter last week) don't abandon that "exhaustive process" with an expedient pre-adoption of a competing format that is not yet, and possibly may never, achieve the status of a standard.

All in all, a very satisfying day for Team ODF. IBM's move has flash, it has style and it has a point. Big Blue's actions today should be sufficient to move the ball back across the center field line, recovering much or all of the ground lost to Microsoft's Ecma announcements just before Thanksgiving.

The game is far from over, but today, Team ODF evened up the score.

I know nothing at all about politics, as longtimers here know, so if that part of this story intrigues you, you don't want to miss Updegrove's analysis, and I happily turn you over to him for that.

In News Picks earlier today, you saw the story about the new Workplace Managed Client, announced today in India. Note what it can do:

"The next version to be launched in early 2006 will support the newly-ratified ODF providing flexibility of sharing information regardless of any software platform you are using," IBM Vice President of Standards and Open Source Bob Sutor told reporters here on Monday.

But, you say, it isn't quite ready yet. Neither is Microsoft's pie-in-the-sky XML, which is at least a year away, they tell me, if it ever gets approved at all as a standard. ODF is already an approved standard, and the IBM product is available early next year, so in effect, it's here. It's now. It's ready, as far as Massachusetts is concerned, since this product will be ready before their rollout date. The coverage by ZDNET explains how the product works:

Rather than create an analog to Microsoft Office, IBM is offering editors for creating documents, spreadsheets or presentations within a Web browser. Documents are delivered via a Web portal and stored in shared directories. Access control and document management tools allow people to share and edit documents with others.

Is that or is that not exactly what Massachusetts said it needed? And, unlike Microsoft's XML, with a covenant not to sue which may or may not apply to all future versions, there will never be upgrades of ODF that break access to earlier created documents, with the result that the Commonwealth will always have guaranteed access to its documents. On what nonlaughable basis can Massachusetts, or anybody else, now back away from ODF, even if the fix was in? Not that it was. Like I told you, I know nothing about politics.

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