We've seen a lot of news this month around OpenOffice.org and the StarOffice productivity suites.
In a press release issued yesterday, it was announced that IBM has officially joined the community to collaborate on the development of OpenOffice.org software. What is interesting about this is that IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions to the feature richness and code quality of OpenOffice.org products supporting the ISO ODF standard.
Why is this important?
For several reasons. This agreement will spur more innovation and enhanced support for OpenOffice.org and ODF, particularly in the area of accessibility. In turn, the enhanced functionality will provide better support and further choice for organizations around the world that are moving to ODF.
One of the first things IBM is bringing to OpenOffice.org is an implementation of the new accessibility interface, IAccessible2.
IAccessible2 is essentially a port to Windows of the GNOME Accessibility interface that Sun brought to the open source GNOME community, and like that interface, it is becoming a standard under the stewardship of the Open Accessibility Group in the Linux Foundation.
Without something like IAccessible2 assistive technology products -- screen readers for the blind, screen magnifiers for users with low vision -- must reverse engineer applications in order to make them accessible; a particularly difficult, expensive, and brittle task that must be re-done with every new release of Windows or the application.
Now that two of the most popular screen readers (JAWS and WindowEyes) support IAccessible2, the majority of blind screen reader users on Windows will have very good, direct access to OpenOffice.org and ODF. This complements the access provided through the free, Sun ODF Plug-in to Microsoft Office, which allows Windows assistive technology users (as well as others) to read and write ODF through MS-Office, where their existing, reverse-engineered access exists. This in turn will make ODF more attractive to governments, which often require that the technology they purchase be accessible to all of its users, including the disabled.
IAccessible2 also complements excellent open source access solutions provided on UNIX platforms like Solaris, OpenSolaris, and Ubuntu.
Peter Korn has a great entry on his blog about Darragh Ó Héiligh, a blind Linux user in Ireland, who has just posted an audio introduction of Fedora Linux with Orca.
Futhermore, OpenOffice is free, open source, supports ODF and it ships with Solaris and most major Linux distributions as well as other popular file formats. What more can you ask for?
Developers, businesses, government representatives, and users will be convening at the annual OpenOffice.org Conference (OooCon) on September 19-21 in Barcelona, Spain. OOoCon is the premier annual event for all contributors interested in or working with OpenOffice.org. Representatives of all OpenOffice.org community projects will be on hand to participate and learn from the achievements of the past year, and to discuss how to meet new challenges. This year, OOoCon and OASIS will host a joint ODF Camp, focused on OASIS' ODF. Come to Barcelona and check it out.