OpenDocument Foundation Dissolves, Leaving Projects in Disarray

After warning just two weeks ago that the conversion of workplaces' information infrastructure to XML "must not be disruptive," the open source group that helped catalyze that conversion has apparently ceased to exist.

The OpenDocument Foundation has disappeared, taking with it its Web site and having deleted pages Google had been hosting for it, including news on its Compound Document Format translator project.

The only official confirmation of the group's disbanding was provided yesterday, in the form of the two-word sentence, "It is," appearing in Foundation co-founder Sam Riser's blog posting yesterday.

Specifically, Riser wrote, "People have wondered why I haven't blogged about the Foundation closing. It is. And I haven't said anything here because corporate housekeeping takes a little time: board votes, blah blah blah. We will issue a press release when we have thought through and fully understand what we are going to do next."

Although the Foundation at one time was synonymous with the open-source format upon which OpenOffice, StarOffice, and now Lotus' new Symphony suite are based, the news of its closing may in some respects not be bad news for ODF's current proponents. In recent weeks, the Foundation had been changing course, attacking ODF for having allegedly abandoned the format's original mission. Instead, Riser, along with partners Gary Edwards and Buck "Marbux" Martin, turned their attention to a World-Wide Web Consortium project called Compound Document Format.

It's not an ODF alternative; indeed, its purpose is actually to accrue any number of possible XML-based descriptive formats under a collective envelope. ODF and Microsoft's Office Open XML may be among those formats that CDF would theoretically help bind together, using a "glue" made up of XML and derivatives of HTML and XForms - two other W3C creations.

But in serving as that "glue," the Foundation's founders had recently said they believed CDF could fulfill the original goals of the ODF format - goals they described as having been circumvented by their current backers, perhaps in the effort to keep OOXML from being considered an equal player. To that end, they established what had been called the da Vinci Project, whose stated goal was to build a better bridge between OOXML and ODF than Microsoft itself is working on, using CDF as a go-between.

Today, the da Vinci Project appears dead, as its home pages on Google were also struck down.

ODF is far from being a ship without a tiller at this point. As a standard, its development remains guided by the OASIS standards body; and its promotion among potential adopters and customers is currently being handled by the OpenDocument Fellowship. Gary Edwards remains listed as a member there, even though the two ODFs supposedly parted waves two weeks ago.

Redmond Developer News publisher Michael Desmond reported in his column today that Sun Microsystems chief open-source officer Simon Phipps (apparently at the Oracle OpenWorld conference today in San Francisco) confided to him that he considered the OpenDocument Foundation "a shell that consists of just three people." That shell apparently split off of the core group, going its own way, Phipps told Desmond, when OASIS evolved in a more corporate direction.

But also, with the CDF project already being steered by an established organization - the one which gave birth to this Web thing you read about in the papers - the sad fact today is that the OpenDocument Foundation may end up not being missed.

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