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ODF Turns Five
A look back on the journey to a mature open standard document format

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as an industry standard. On May 1, 2005, ODF (OpenDocument v1.0 specification) was approved as an OASIS Standard, marking the beginning of a campaign for document freedom that many people probably didn't expect would be so durable, or so significant. After all, who really cares about document formats, right?

ODF was created on the principles that interoperability and innovation were paramount, and that these are based on open standards. Not coincidentally, ODF's creation coincided with the growing support of open ICT architectures, which grew from the Web model where the standardization of HTML, an open, royalty-free standard, enabled the Web to be an open platform that enabled much innovation on top of it. The key was interoperability, or the ability of multiple parties to communicate electronically, without the need to all run the same application software or operating system. Also critical to the development of ODF was the introduction of OpenOffice.org, the open source office suite that first implemented the format, and the rise of XML as a widely supported foundational standard for describing structured data.

In the pre-ODF era, office productivity application innovation had all but halted. The ".doc" emerged as a de-facto - but proprietary - format, but it only worked well with one vendor's applications on one vendor's operating system. At that time, people - and more important governments - didn't have much control of their own documents and there was little choice of applications.

However, over the last five years, ODF has led directly to the current environment where governments around the world increasingly understand and appreciate the value and utility of open formats, and more governments have made open standards-based solutions an essential feature of their eGovernment strategies and open ICT architectures. As a result, ODF today is an integral part of the global open movement.

Five years, 27 governments and myriad applications later, ODF is very well established - yet continually a work in progress (like any worthy format). Not only has ODF exceeded even the high expectations of many initial supporters, it can be said without question that ODF has permanently altered the evolution of document formats for the better. Of course, the next five years are likely to be even more important, as more governments continue to implement their open frameworks. While we cannot gaze into a crystal ball to predict the next five years, the following is a summary of ODF's accomplishments - including a time line of these milestones - during the last five years. Congratulations, and happy birthday, ODF:

Standardization
After the initial approval of ODF 1.0 in OASIS on May 1, 2005, ODF was submitted to ISO/IEC JTC1 for approval, where it was unanimously approved as an International Standard in May 2006. February 2007 saw the approval of OASIS ODF 1.1, bringing several accessibility improvements. ODF 1.2, with RDF semantic web metadata, a detailed spreadsheet formula language and other features is expected to be approved by OASIS later in 2010.

Government Adoptions
ODF has become widely recognized and increasingly accepted by public sector authorities who understand and appreciate the value and utility of open formats as more governments make open standards-based solutions an essential feature of their eGovernment strategies. As a result, ODF today is an integral part of the global open movement. To date, 27 governments (national and provincial) have adopted pro-ODF open standards policies. These adoptions have occurred through laws, executive decisions, interoperability frameworks, or policy initiatives requiring or recommending the use of ODF between and among government agencies and in their interactions with the public.

ODF Application Support
ODF is widely implemented and available on all major platforms, including traditional desktop editors, as well as web and mobile applications. At this time, all leading office suites support ODF, as do an increasing number of mobile devices. The rise of ODF and demand for open formats has coincided - not coincidentally in our view - with a proliferation of new office productivity applications not seen since the PC was first introduced in the 1980s.

About David LeDuc
David LeDuc, Managing Director of the ODF Alliance and Senior Director of Public Policy for the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).

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