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Eliminating the 'Software Tax' by Using ODF

ODF is a fully tested, international standard for common productivity applications

Over the past several years, there has been an unprecedented amount of investment in developing alternative energy sources. Technological strides in ethanol-based fuels, next-generation solar, wind power, and fuel cells all tie in to a global effort to become a more environmentally conscious society. However, one of the biggest reasons we are so focused on this area is to ultimately reduce our dependence on oil as our primary source of energy. While the impact of petroleum-based energies on the environment is on everyone's mind, the cost of a gallon of gas every time we fill up our cars is on everyone’s mind as well.

The big oil companies know this. They are investing millions in alternative energy sources, and, in many ways, are leading the charge to help the world become more “green.” Evidence in this is seen by the simple fact that “BP” no longer stands for British Petroleum.

In many ways, there is a similar trend happening in the way we produce and store our digital documents. Just as we have become dependent on oil as an energy resource, we have also become dependent on a single vendor solution for saving our digital history – in the form of our word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet documents. Last year, it was estimated that more than 90 percent of the office productivity suite market was controlled by one vendor, and, historically, because of this dominance, consumers, businesses small and large, and governments have been left with few viable options.

European governments, in particular, have spent billions of dollars every year in “software taxes” – in the form of licensing fees – all for the right to continue to use proprietary document formats that don’t allow implementation of alternative programs, and ultimately restrict access to government documents by citizens who do not have the licensed software. As a result, governments have been forced to continue using the same program, and in business, we call that a “barrier to exit.”

So, imagine receiving and opening a document, having the ability to read and edit that document, all from a program different from that in which it was created. Now imagine being able to send that document to anyone in the world. That is the goal of the OpenDocument Format (ODF).

ODF has emerged as an industry alternative and was designed with vendor, application, and platform independence in mind, thus allowing governments to seamlessly implement a number of different document production applications into their networks. It is a fully tested, international standard for common productivity applications and, to date, more than 100 million copies of ODF-supporting applications have been distributed worldwide.

The best part about it – it's free.

Governments have already started this trend, and the momentum of ODF adoption in Europe and around the world is impressive. Government agencies in France and Spain, as well as cities like Bristol, Munich, and Vienna, are deploying ODF applications that are significantly reducing operating costs, while improving government access for citizens. In Denmark, the cost savings of moving to ODF/OpenOffice across the entire Danish Public Administration is estimated at $94 million (U.S. dollars) over five years.

The economic impact of having more governments adopt ODF and eliminate millions of dollars in licensing fees could greatly change the landscape of how they operate. While the current momentum is encouraging, further adoption of ODF and other open standards and open source technologies should be a governmental priority. This not only provides a pathway for reducing the cost of doing business for all governments, it will also drive greater collaboration and innovation throughout the world.

More Stories By Erwin Tenhumberg

Erwin Tenhumberg is community development and marketing manager
Sun Microsystems Inc. He is a member of the Open Source Group at Sun Microsystems, which is led by Sun's Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps. Among his roles and responsibilities are community development and marketing for In addition, Erwin Tenhumberg focuses on open source business models and open source in the public sector. Besides his role in the Open Source Group, Erwin is also co-chairing the OASIS OpenDocument Format (ODF) Adoption TC (Technical Committee). As part of his work, he is involved in various ODF efforts like at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the US or within the European Union. In addition, he collaborates with the OASIS OpenDocument Format TC, the ODF Alliance and the open source community.

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