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IBM throws weight behind project

IBM has joined the community after years of holding out.

After years of holding out, IBM has joined the open-source community and will contribute code to the office suite that serves as an alternative to Microsoft's Office software.

IBM has been using code from the project in its development of productivity applications it included in Lotus 8, the latest version of its collaboration suite, but until now had not been an official member of the community, said Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for the Lotus division at IBM. The company now will contribute its own code to the project and be more visible about its work to integrate into Lotus, he said.

Heintzman acknowledged that the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO's) recent vote to reject Microsoft's Open XML file format as a technology standard was one reason IBM decided to join the effort. uses Open Document Format (ODF), a rival file format to Open XML that is already an ISO technology standard. IBM is one of the companies pushing for the use of ODF in companies and government organizations that are creating mandates to only use technology based on open standards in their IT architectures.

"They are certainly related," he said of the ISO vote and IBM's decision to join "We think that it's now time to make sure there is a public code base that implements this spec so we can attract a critical mass to build these new value propositions."

Sun Microsystems founded and offers its own commercial implementation of the suite, called StarOffice. The company, a long-time IBM competitor in the hardware and software markets, also has been the primary contributor to the code, one of the reasons IBM baulked for so long before joining the group.

"[The community] has had some challenges in recruiting an awful lot of big names to support the activity, but [now] we think there are some that can provide an example to us all to provide a vibrant place to add value," Heintzman said. "We hope that our voice at the table will help us evolve the community."

Intellectual-property attorney and well-known ODF supporter Andrew Updegrove noted that the ISO's decision and recent interest in StarOffice by Google may have been enough to inspire IBM to set aside any competitive differences with Sun and work with them to promote as an alternative to Microsoft Office. Momentum from the ISO's rejection of Open XML is a prime opportunity for to become a real alternative to Office, he said.

"Most likely, the setback for [Open XML] ... and Google's announcement a month ago that it would include StarOffice 8 in its free Google Pack download figure into IBM's decision," Updegrove wrote in an e-mail to the mailing list for his Standards Blog.

"Those events help provide the type of public momentum that ... offer the prospect for the type of greater rewards that help displace other considerations and historical impediments. Whatever the reasons may have been that have kept Sun and IBM from working together to support OpenOffice over the past four years more fully, the reality is that a chance to break an industry monopoly that generates US$15 billion in revenues a year comes only once in a generation -- when it comes at all."

In a press statement, Sun welcomed IBM's addition to the group, which claims it has had 100 million downloads of its software since it launched in 2000.