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29 August 2011, 13:16

TransferSummit icon TransferSummit: Innovation, commoditisation and value creation

By Don Harbison

In the second of a short series of articles introducing some of the topics which will be discussed at the upcoming TransferSummit in Oxford, IBM's Don Harbison discusses the benefits of an open approach to the development of document standards.

Documents are getting smarter. Programming libraries are now available for the automation of document workflows. Semantics can now be enabled at the document element level. Social business frameworks are weaving documents within dialogues, enabling new forms of synchronous and asynchronous document authoring and consumption. The recent donation of OpenOffice to the Apache Software Foundation demonstrates the need for independent communities, for companies such as IBM to be able to both support and contribute to the ongoing development of open software solutions based on open standards.

Standards do a lot. They level the playing field, provide a mechanism for freely sharing intellectual property, encourage re-use and foster innovation. For the better part of the past two and half decades a monoculture has existed in the office document domain, stifling diversity and competition. With the emergence of the Open Document Format standard in 2006, an evolution began. But a single standard is only as good as the number of implementations claiming to support it. And software developers need APIs to ease the use of the standard for their application development needs.

Newly minted podlings at Apache: OpenOffice and ODF Toolkit herald the arrival of a powerful reference implementation for ODF and a powerful programming library. These complementary open source projects hold the potential to grow in new directions.

OASIS ODF 1.2 is adding support for an Open Formula language, digital signatures and metadata. Consider, for example, how the metadata support in ODF 1.2 can be leveraged by applications, enabling a new class of multi-layered documents including content, style and metadata. Documents will be encoded in XML and will have a strict separation of content and styles as well as explicit layers for semantics and behaviours. The era of intermingling executable code with document data in a way that leads to periodic outbreaks of macro viruses will come to an end. Users will be able to associate tags or categories with individual works and portions of their documents. Such tags might be invisible to the end user, but when stored in the document they allow advanced analytics.

So why do it in the open? Why would technology companies such as IBM take such an interest in Apache? One might consider viewing the rationale in macroeconomic terms. Meeting the challenge of driving innovation in personal productivity is beyond the ability of any single corporate entity. Instead, an open source development model based on open standards well illustrates the aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats". By leveraging standards to share intellectual property equally, and both contributing to and harvesting open source technologies, corporations and public sector ICT contributors and consumers may equally influence changes in the technology landscape that accelerate innovation and bring these benefits to the market.

Many may regard OpenOffice as antiquated, yet with source code openly available at Apache, individual contributors and committers will have the opportunity to take it in new directions, including cloud and mobile solutions, underpinned by a common set of web and document standards. With Apache OpenOffice, there is a large opportunity to ignite new ideas in the office document domain that have long been regarded as unavailable to software developers. Examples may include new solutions based on multi-layered documents, capable of harnessing engines for analytics, content management and governance/risk/compliance.

As today's collaboration and communication tools increasingly move to social business frameworks, document authoring tools now include the full spectrum of wikis, blogs, status messages, gadgets, etc. There is broad acceptance for adaptable document layout and presentation that meets the demands of users who move fluidly from laptop, to tablet, to SmartPhone throughout their working day. Document editing concepts including sections, fragments, redaction and privacy controls are needed to support these tools and services as they mature for enterprise use and deployments.

Open systems have proven to be best suited for the rapid introduction of new technologies. The price of entry is extremely low and the opportunities are large. Participation and transparency is the currency for success.

Don Harbison

About Don Harbison: Program Director, IBM Open Document Format Initiative at IBM. Wearing his new Apache Hat, Don is a Committer and member of the Apache OpenOffice PMC focused on the non-coding aspects of the project including community development, communications and branding.

Wearing his IBM Hat, Don works in IBM Software Group's Open Source and Open Standards organisation with overall responsibility for IBM's support of the OASIS Open Document Format standard. Over the course of his career, Don has led software projects for collaboration, document and content management solutions. As a member of the Business and Technical Strategy team in IBM Software, he was a core contributor to the formation and execution of IBM's support of Linux across the IBM middleware portfolio.

The H is proud to be a media sponsor of TransferSummit 2011.

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