Sun, IBM launch ODF tools initiative

Sun and IBM are behind a new effort to provide tools for the Open Document Format.

Sun Microsystems and IBM Wednesday announced the Open Document Format Toolkit Union, an open-source project aimed at making it easier for developers to use ODF.

Sun is contributing an initial set of code for an API (application programming interface) developers can use to work with ODF files without having to know the ins and outs of the technical specification, the companies said.

The joint announcement follows the launch last year of an initial ODF Toolkit project on the OpenOffice.org project site. The ODF Toolkit Union, meanwhile, will be based at www.ODFToolkit.org.

"We're going to have a call to action to other folks," said Sun spokeswoman Terri Molini. "We're welcoming everybody from Microsoft to whomever. That's our goal here, to get out and do some outreach."

Sun has been speaking to other companies, Molini said, but she declined to name them. "Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks we'll have some momentum to share."

While Sun made the initial code contribution, IBM will follow quickly with donations of its own, said Ed Brill, director of collaboration for IBM's Lotus division.

News of the vendors' effort spurred a range of reactions from industry observers. "ODF, by its nature, is inherently programmatically manipulable -- in other words, the contents of an ODF document can be easily unpacked and parsed via an application. The Toolkit Union, by providing some ODF libraries and such, should make the job of working with ODF documents far simpler," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with Redmonk, via e-mail.

But another observer suggested there is another dynamic at play behind the scenes of the new group.

"This may be an effort to separate out support for ODF from Sun, which oversees OpenOffice.org," said Jay Lyman, an analyst with The 451 Group, in an e-mail. "IBM is among those that want to support OpenOffice and ODF, but may not necessarily want that support linked. By establishing the ODF Toolkit Union, I think backers are looking to broaden out the ODF development and support community aside from the OpenOffice.org communities that already exist."

IBM announced Wednesday that development of future generations of its free Symphony productivity suite will be done entirely on the ODF 1.2 and OpenOffice 3.0 software code base.

This will result in interoperability with Office 2007 file formats and support for Visual Basic macros probably by mid-2009, according to Brill.

Also, the Mac OS X version of Symphony, now in beta, should be generally available in early 2009, Brill said.

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Chris Kanaracus

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