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IBM is adopting OpenDocument Format (ODF) for the first generally available release of its network-based collaboration and office productivity suite.

IBM said Sunday its Workplace Managed Client 2.6, due in early 2006, would adopt ODF so users could easily share files and information. The Workplace Managed Client is currently available on a limited capacity, with more than one million deployed seats.

The timing of IBM's announcement is designed to capitalize on debate and concern over the openness of file formats in Microsoft's Office, and appeal to governments in emerging markets like China and India as they start to digitize their data.

"We are getting our biggest, best early interest form people in emerging economies and in the government sector. We expect interest to grow from that base," market manager for the IBM Workplace client Arthur Fontaine told The Register.

Support for ODF comes as governments worldwide increasingly mandate that their users adopt software that meets "open standards" of interoperability. That came to a head recently with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' decision, subsequently reversed, to dump Microsoft's Office in favor of suites using ODF.

Microsoft, which rejects ODF for Office, surprised everyone last month by announcing plans to submit its rival Office Open XML formats to an international standards group for ratification.

Fontaine echoed what is turning into a common industry refrain over Microsoft's standards announcement. "We would like to see what the final output of those standards are, if the open source movement can live with it, and if anything its kept out of the standard for use by the single vendor," he said.

Fontaine claimed that putting ODF into the Workplace Managed Client meant IBM's software could compete against traditional desktop suites like Office, OpenOffice and Sun Microsystems StarOffice based on features - such as management and deployment - instead of file formats. The Workplace client is a cross-platform collaboration suite spanning IBM's Lotus Notes, WebSphere portal, instant messaging and email. ®

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