OpenDocument wins more fans

Malaysia and Bristol are just two of the latest places to fly the ODF flag

OpenDocument Format (ODF), the open file format for office documents, is continuing to gather support from local and national governments.

On Thursday the ODF Alliance announced that more than 280 organisations and industry bodies have joined up to support the format. One of the latest converts is Malaysia, whose official standards body voted this week for ODF. This should mean that Malaysia's public sector will start using ODF from the end of this year.

"The news from Malaysia continues momentum towards ODF that we are seeing around the globe," said Marino Marcich, executive director of the ODF Alliance, in a statement. "For instance, France and Belgium have recently identified ODF as the kind of open format on which they would standardise. Denmark and Norway have recently indicated that they are moving toward using software based on open standards, and India is also piloting deployments of ODF software within governmental departments."

Closer to home, Bristol City Council has also joined the Alliance. It says that it wants to simplify the process of sharing information.

"Most of today's electronic office documents have been created by a few commercial software programs, and more often than not each one has its own format which cannot be used in conjunction with others without recourse to a time-consuming and limited conversion process," said the Council. "In order to process a document, users need the same program (and corresponding versions) or a filter that allows the document to be opened and modified. OpenDocument Format does away with this need."

ODF has been approved as a standard by OASIS;  ISO also approved it in May of this year. It can be used royalty-free by anyone.

Microsoft has proposed an alternative format called Open XML in answer to objections that the Office file formats are not sufficiently open. Faced with growing opposition over its refusal to support ODF, the company announced earlier this month that it will create a tool that will allow people to use Microsoft Office to open and save ODF documents.

"Clearly there is a strong demand from customers for access to a truly universal, open, standards-based file format," said Marcich. "If Microsoft's ODF translator really works, it — along with converters that are being developed by others — can be a tool to help customers transition to an environment where ODF predominates."

However, legal Web site Groklaw reported last week that early screenshots of this tool show that it doesn't include a feature for saving a document in the ODF format.