IBM joins OpenOffice.org to widen its reach

It will provide developers, other resources to open-source project

IBM has gotten so much from the OpenOffice.org office suite to enhance its own products that the company has decided to finally give back in a big way: It's joining the open-source project and will contribute code, developers and other resources for free.

In an announcement Monday, IBM said that by joining the effort directly, it hopes to develop feature enhancements and help push broader adoption of the OpenDocument format (ODF) standard used in the suite.

Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM's Lotus collaboration division, said IBM has been using OpenOffice code for the past several years to create its own version of the office applications integrated into the Lotus Notes 8 collaboration suite. By incorporating OpenOffice features, Lotus Notes 8 gained integrated office applications that seamlessly work within the application, he said.

To build on those features from OpenOffice, IBM Lotus developers built and enhanced accessibility features for visually impaired and other handicapped users, he said. Previously, IBM had been doing this work outside of the OpenOffice community. With Monday's announcement, the company will stop work on its own version of OpenOffice.

"We decided that the time was right," Heintzman said. All future Lotus and IBM products that incorporate OpenOffice code will use code from the community rather than from what had been IBM's forked version of the project.

The reason for the move, Heintzman said, is that IBM is anticipates shifting demand from customers, changing specifications and wider adoption of ODF, as well as other changes expected in future office applications.

IBM will dedicate a core team of 35 programmers in China to the OpenOffice project, but more people will be added as needed around the world, he said.

Louis Suarez-Potts, the community manager at Sun Microsystems for the OpenOffice.org project, called IBM's announcement "extremely important."

"What it's doing for us is not only enhancing the community by expanding it," but adding future richness and additional ODF technology to the project, Suarez-Potts said. Another benefit is that IBM will add these things into many of their existing products, which are distributed worldwide, he said. "It's fantastic all around. The community is very happy about this and is looking forward to working with IBM."

John McCreesh, OpenOffice.org marketing project lead, said in a statement that the IBM move is "great news for the tens of millions of users of OpenOffice.org and the thousands of individual members of the project. But equally important is IBM's future commitment to package and distribute new works that leverage OpenOffice.org technology supporting the ISO ODF standard. ODF is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the IT industry to unify round a standard, and deliver lasting benefit to users of desktop technology."

OpenOffice.org includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, database and other modules and uses ODF as its native file format; it also fully supports other common file formats, including Microsoft Office. OpenOffice runs on all major platforms, including Windows, Vista, Linux, Solaris and Mac OS X, and is available in more than 100 languages. It is interoperable with other popular suites and may be used free of charge for any purpose, private or commercial, under its GNU Lesser General Public License. Created in 2000 by Sun, OpenOffice has been downloaded nearly 100 million times, according to Sun.

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Todd R. Weiss

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