The Open Document movement, from the OASIS industry consortium, is slowly but surely wresting Microsoft’s market dominance in word and spreadsheet applications. The Oasis consortium is formed by government and public institutions around the world, as well as software vendors that commit to public licenses. Governments all over the world are starting to demand a common open standard for their documents, such that they are no longer limited to using Microsoft’s Word and Excel applications. The idea is that documents are stored in an open public domain format, such that anybody can write a program to process the document; all software vendors can compete in providing a word and spreadsheet applications.
Best of all, the open source openoffice.org suite of office applications, are free to use. The office suite includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, vector drawing, and database components. It is available for any platform, including Linux and Microsoft.
The commonwealth of Massachusetts leads the push to make an open document format obligatory. WIth so much pressure Microsoft has had to respond and open its proprietary binary document formats. The first step has been to set up its own XML-based file formats, and granting a conditional public license for its use; its Office Open-XML standard. The downside of the standard is that it is taylored only Microsoft Office Suite, in addition to a license prohibiting some competitors from using it.
In the most recent breakthrough, Microsoft has ceded to pressure and Microsoft’s office will support the Open Document Format (ODF). Thus Microsoft Office documents will be open to other applications, like the free openoffice.org free editors and spreadsheet software, opening Microsoft up to huge market pressure.
Open Document Standard Fight Continues
The development of the document standards has been accompanied by strong debate. One the one hand figureheads from Microsoft, like Brian Jones, who is a leading player in the Microsoft Office team, and developers at IBM and SUN who are part of the Oasis and openoffice partners.
In spite of the continuing debate over the pros and cons of the two standards, the fact is that Microsoft is having to embrace a public domain format based on the XML, which is the bedrock for the long term commons vision of the web.