The Open Document Format used in open source office products, StarOffice and OpenOffice, has become a formal ISO standard, beating Microsoft's efforts to make its own OpenXML a formal standard

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) this week accepted the Open Document Format (ODF) as an international standard for saving and exchanging digital office documents, according to a group supporting ODF's use.

ISO's 6-month voting process on whether to grant special ISO 26300 status to ODF ended May 1 with "sweeping approval" from ISO members, according to Marino Marcich, executive director of the Open Document Format Alliance. An exact tally of the votes was not immediately available on ISO's Web site.

Other popular technology formats that have received ISO approval in the past include HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF).

"This is a really powerful signal that ODF has arrived, and improves the prospect of it being incorporated into a range of products," said Marcich, head of the three-month old Alliance. An offshoot of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), it has around 150 members.

Based on the XML file format used by the open-source productivity suite, OpenOffice, ODF is a vendor-neutral standard for saving common office documents, according to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), which submitted ODF to ISO last September.

Supporters such as IBM, Sun and Novell say ODF creates a reliable, open format that will be particularly useful for governments and organisations worried whether their archived digital documents will be readable in the future.
ODF's main opponent has been Microsoft, whose market-dominating Office suite has established the proprietary formats .doc, .xls and .ppt (from Word, Excel and Powerpoint) as the most widely-used formats used by individuals and businesses.

Microsoft is developing a successor format as part of its upcoming Office 2007 which it calls Microsoft Office Open XML. Microsoft says it is licensing Open XML for free to companies and is submitting it to an European standards body, ECMA International, for approval as open standard.

To coalesce around a single standard would hinder innovation, said Jason Matusow, Director of Standards Affairs for Microsoft.

"There are hundreds of industry-specific XML schemas used right now by industries spanning health care, real estate, insurance, finance and others. ODF is yet another XML-based format in the market," he said.

"The ODF format is limited to the features and performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy most of our Microsoft Office customers today. Yet we will support interoperability with ODF documents as they start to appear and will not oppose its standardisation or use by any organisation. The richness of competitive choices in the market is good for our customers and for the industry as a whole."

If Open XML is approved by ECMA later this year, Microsoft will ask the body to submit it to the ISO for approval.

But critics such as Marino have said that Open XML's specifications have not been finalised, and that Microsoft retains too much control for its format to be considered open.

Marcich said that with the ISO's approval of ODF, groups such as the ODF Alliance will now turn towards convincing governments to adopt ODF or mandate its usage.

Massachusetts has been the highest-profile adopter of ODF, with former CIO Peter Quinn mandating its implementation by the start of 2007. Current CIO Louis Gutierrez told Computerworld in April that he does not foresee wide-scale use of ODF by state workers by that time, though he plans to give an update by mid-year on the state's progress.