IBM chose the Deutsche Notes User Group conference in Germany this week to make a significant announcement about its adoption of the ODF (OpenDocument Format) in the next version of Lotus Notes.

The first beta, due out in autumn, will include an ODF-compatible version of OpenOffice embedded in the Notes email application. It will include word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications (or editors, as they are called), giving users the ability to create, edit and save documents natively in ODF.

Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates, called the news significant on a number of levels.

"This is the way of getting the ODF standard out to a large number of users in a very short time and, since standards live or die on how many people use them, this gives it a jumpstart," Wohl said.

Code-named Hannover, the new Notes version will be available with the productivity editors included to all Notes users who are current on software maintenance contacts. IBM estimates that number at 125 million users.

ODF recently received strong support from the ISO (Internation Standards Organization), which voted to approve the OpenDocument format as a specification.

According to Gary Edwards, president of the OpenDocument Foundation, approval of ODF as a specification is the last major hurdle before official adoption of the standard.

ODF documents will give users a way to exchange documents now and into the future regardless of the editor that was used to write the document, according to Wohl.

"You can exchange documents in PDF but they are not editable," Wohl said.

Although Microsoft has said it would not put transforms into the next version of Office, there are already a number of third parties creating ODF plug-ins for the Microsoft productivity suite.

With ODF, users will be able to create composite applications using any file from an ODF-enabled productivity suite. To that end, IBM also announced that Notes will ship with APIs into SAP back-end applications by 30 May.