Alliance backs open document format

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. July 10, 2006, to add information.

Several major software companies and industry associations today announced a global alliance to promote the use of nonproprietary technologies for archiving government records.

The coalition members said they share concerns that electronic records created today will be difficult to review in the future if public agencies fail to save them in a format that can be read by any application, regardless of the software that created the original document.

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), IBM, the Indian Institute of Technology, the American Library Association and other organizations formed the OpenDocument Format Alliance (ODF Alliance) to promote solutions to that records management problem. The group stands behind the OpenDocument Format, an open, XML-based standard for saving electronic documents, such as text, presentations, spreadsheets and other office documents. ODF does not specify any suite of applications or any specific application.

Massachusetts pioneered the shift from proprietary software, such as Microsoft Office, to open-source formats. ODF Alliance leaders said now is the time for federal agencies to adopt ODF for preserving and maintaining access to government records.

Ken Wasch, president of SIIA and a founding member of the Alliance, said that users are demanding open standards. “We deal with Internet standards that are open.… Why should birth certificates be recorded in a format for which any one company has the key?”

The National Archives and Records Administration is grappling with the challenge of preserving government records in ways that are not tied to the application that created them. NARA's flagship project, the Electronic Records Archives, represents a major effort to save government records regardless of format and make them accessible on future hardware and software

The evolution from desktop computers to wireless devices has accelerated the need to embrace ODF, Wasch said. “IBM was the poster child for the closed environment 20 years ago,” he said. “They considered their advantage to be their proprietary lock-ins. Today, more documents are created using your thumbs on a BlackBerry or PDA,” he said.

More than 30 organizations worldwide have joined the Alliance: Adullact Association; the American Library Association; Ark Linux; the Association of Open Source Suppliers and Vendors in Denmark; Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (India); Cognitran Ltd.; Corel; CSW Group; EDS; EMC; Friends of OpenDocument; GENICORP; Indian Institute of Technology; Information Program, Open Society Institute; IBM; Justsystem; Massachusetts High Technology Council; Massachusetts Network Communications Council; Novell; Open Society Archives of the Central European University (OSA Archivum); OpenForum Europe; OpenDocument Fellowship; the OpenDocument Foundation;; Optaros; Oracle; OSS Alliance; Propylon; Red Hat; Software and Information Industry Association; Sun Microsystems; Technical University of Denmark; and Tarent GmbH.


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