O'Reilly's OnLAMP site has an article on ODF. This is a nice, simplified introduction, just right for printing out and posting around the office.
Enter, then, OpenDocument Format, the open standard implementation
of XML for office documents. An open standard recipe for organizing
document data is very different from what we're used to. Until now, the
organizing principles for our document data have been hidden from
public view, because they were developed by a private enterprise and
used for competitive advantage. Given the obscurity of document formats
and of technical standards work, it's easy to miss the importance of an
XML-based open document format standard.
With the OpenDocument Format, we're talking about a very different
way of doing things. Documents become the center of attention, not
applications. While this has large benefits for the way information is
generated, connected, accessed, and archived, it ruffles the feathers
of people and businesses that are committed to the established, if
How could the leading application software vendor for documents not
be offended by the aspirations of OpenDocument Format? It disrupts
Microsoft's influence on its customers in large and important
ways–both direct and indirect. If OpenDocument Format does not launch
the most important worldwide software standards battle, then it will at
least provide the very best theater for the citizenry to chide, heckle,
and throw tomatoes on the stage–as the established software vendor
cajoles its old and new customers back into deep dependence on a single
With this article, one can clearly see why there is such a big uproar in Massechusetts over file formats. OpenDocument Formats return the power to the users of software, rather than locking all control into the hands of the software vendor. This sounds like there may be a long and hard fight, full of dirty tricks, before the users of software gain the upper hand here.
But this is more than just a polemic. It is a good explanation of ODF and the reasons for its creation, as well as the potential for new things that we have not yet imagined (because it is an open, free-to-be-implemented-by-anyone, XML-based standard). I recommend this article wholeheartedly.
There is also a PDF from the ODF Alliance entitled "Why ODF?" that sets out the benefits that all citizens gain when government agencies adopt ODF as their standard. This blog post and its comment likewise set out a good reason to go with ODF instead of someone's proprietary file formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt, .docx, and so on).