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This presentation examines the contemporary history of the ISO office suite standards, the OpenDocument Format (ODF) and the yet-to-be-published Office Open XML (OOXML), and the more general politics of free and open source software (Foss) now that it has evidently become a significant player on the desktop and the focus of government attention worldwide. The political debate and media hubbub, as well as the rank speculation, hot debates and lively discussions conducted through blogs and email exchanges, surrounding the fast-tracked ISO voting process on the Microsoft-initiated format (a version of which is used in Microsoft’s latest office application) should not have come as a surprise, even though the issue at hand was and is recondite and technological, seemingly juicy for geeks but dry for everyone else. But earning the approval of the ISO for something like an office format that potentially could be used by hundreds of millions and affect how governments treat electronic documents, is hardly without political consideration, especially when an alternative, already approved by the ISO and for the same purposes, already exists: the ISO/IEC 26300:2006, which OpenOffice.org and many other applications implement. (In contrast, no application fully implements DIS 29500, or “Office Open XML”, not even Microsoft Office 2007. At more than 6,000 pages, it’s not easy to implement in toto.) What was at stake in the debate—and what continues to be at stake—is not only the immensely profitable office suite market itself. It’s what the format and the technology promise: freedom. The ODF, coupled with OpenOffice.org, shakes the foundations of monopoly, the status quo. With an easily usable open standard and Foss technology, one is not limited to a single vendor; there is, as the phrase puts it, no vendor lock-in. In this light, the ODF and OpenOffice.org and the many other implementations of the format are truly disruptive technologies that threaten the easy billions established markets generate. And it’s not a question of one company or another battling with Microsoft for the office market. That would be a naïve characterization, as if the object at stake were a commodity like beer. It is about freedom.
Louis Suárez-Potts is the longtime Community Manager and Chair of the Community Council for OpenOffice.org; he has led the OpenOffice.org community since 2000 and currently works for Oracle. The lead and co-lead of several projects and the primary spokesperson and representative of OpenOffice.org, Suárez-Potts also represents the project regarding OpenDocument format (ODF) matters, and is on the OASIS ODF Adoption Technical Committee and is a member of the ODF Alliance. He speaks frequently on the ODF, OpenOffice.org, education and open source, and community development throughout the world. Suárez-Potts is currently working on several articles regarding open source development and education. He lives in Toronto and received his PhD from U.C. Berkeley.