IBM has said that it's ready to adopt ODF (OpenDocument Format) in the next version of Lotus Notes.

The company said that the first beta of the software, due this autumn, will include an ODF-compatible version of OpenOffice embedded in the Notes e-mail application. It will include word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications (or editors, as they are called), giving users the ability to create, edit, and save documents natively in ODF.

Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates, called the news significant on a number of levels.

"This is the way of getting the ODF standard out to a large number of users in a very short time and, since standards live or die on how many people use them, this gives it a jump-start," Wohl said.

The new Notes version, Code-named Hannover, will be available with the productivity editors included to all Notes users who are current on software maintenance contacts. IBM estimates that number at 125 million users.

ODF recently received strong support from the ISO standards body, which voted to approve the OpenDocument format as a specification.

According to Gary Edwards, president of the OpenDocument Foundation, approval of ODF as a specification is the last major hurdle to official adoption of the standard.

ODF documents will also give users a way to exchange documents now and into the future regardless of the editor that was used to write the document, according to Wohl.

"You can exchange documents in PDF but they are not editable," Wohl said.

Although Microsoft has said it would not put transforms into the next version of Office, there are already a number of third parties creating ODF plug-ins for the Microsoft productivity suite.

With ODF, users will also be able to create composite applications using any file from an ODF-enabled productivity suite. To that end, IBM has also announced that Notes will ship with APIs into SAP back-end applications by 30 May.

IBM will in essence be offering a productivity suite within Notes, but Big Blue is not going into the desktop applications business, according to Wohl.

Instead, IBM is allowing productivity applications to be offered as a Web service in building composite applications.

"If you're building a benefits applications online, you might need a word processing editor right inside the application. With ODF you can pull the editor service into the application," Wohl said.

"Over time it will depend on who you have relationships with. If a business partner uses ODF you will too. ... that is why putting [it] into Notes is so important," she added.