A group formed to promote the OpenDocument Format has abandoned ODF in favour of a rival format from the W3C, blaming Sun Microsystems for the move.

The OpenDocument Foundation was formed five years ago to push a universal document file format for documents. Until recently, the group was focused on ODF, which is overseen by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and has been approved as a global standard by the International Organization for Standardisation.

However, a recent blog posting by Sam Hiser, vice president and director of business affairs at the OpenDocument Foundation, outlines why the World Wide Web Consortium's Compound Document Format (CDF) is a more viable format than ODF.

The requirements include full compatibility with legacy Microsoft formats, including Office Open XML (OOXML), the ODF rival Microsoft created for its Office suite. Other requirements CDF meets better than ODF include convergence of desktops, servers and devices; cross-platform portability; and vendor independence, he wrote.

In an interview, Hiser said the OpenDocument Foundation began losing support for ODF in February when it became clear to them that Sun Microsystems, one of ODF's biggest supporters, was more interested in making its own StarOffice suite and the open source OpenOffice interoperable with Microsoft Office formats than making ODF work with the Office formats.

Hiser said he suspects Sun's notorious nearly $2 billion payout from Microsoft over Java and other interoperability efforts may have something to do with the company's apparent lack of interest in making ODF interoperable with Office 2007's OOXML.

"All Sun cares about is its application," he said. "Sun never thought of the format as being more important than the application. Sun's position has always been that interoperability with Microsoft formats is outside the scope of ODF."

Sun's Doug Johnson, manager of the Corporate Standards Group at Sun, denied these charges. He said that Sun supports ODF across many of its platforms, and that the company remains committed to ensuring the interoperability of ODF with any rival document formats.

Still, Hiser said lacklustre support for ODF within the OASIS committee that is supposed to promote it has caused problems for promoting the adoption of ODF among enterprises and government agencies and is not consistent with the group's mission to promote a universal file format.

The decision to push CDF means the OpenDocument Foundation will change its name and most likely transform itself into another company or organisation, he added, though he declined to say what the group's plans are.

Hiser acknowledged that ODF supporters are angry with the group because of its change of heart. Indeed, Andrew Updegrove, partner and founder of Gesmer Updegrove and a vocal ODF supporter, wrote in an email that "it's a shame that a group that was expressly formed for the purpose of supporting ODF is now actively working against the standard - especially given the fact that its tax exemption is based upon supporting that same standard."

He dismissed the group's efforts as "not getting much notice" and said ODF continues to have broad support across the world. "I think that there is far more to be gained by building on the global efforts already so well advanced than by pursuing another path," Updegrove said.

IBM, another ardent supporter of ODF, would not directly comment on Hiser's post. But the company will continue to support ODF as the sole standard for global documents, said Bob Sutor, vice president of standards and open source for IBM.

"We see ODF as offering the most promise and the best chance at widespread adoption," he said. IBM supports ODF in its Symphony suite, a free rival to Microsoft Office.

Microsoft, naturally, sees the friction within the ODF community as a boon for its own efforts to push OOXML and stave off Office competitors.

In a blog posting, Jason Matusow, director of corporate standards for Microsoft, wrote that the new controversy over ODF proves it's really the office applications, not the file formats, that matter. In that realm, he wrote, Microsoft continues to show innovation and add value for customers.