Mobile // Mobile Applications
Commentary
7/7/2006
01:01 PM
Alice LaPlante
Alice LaPlante
Commentary
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Forcibly Led To ODF Water, Microsoft Finally Drinks

It's not like Microsoft had much choice in the matter. Even Brian Jones, an Office program manager, admitted in his blog that it was government demands that pushed Microsoft to finally do it (after he made some snarky comments that the firm hasn't seen much demand for it from corporate or consumer customers). What I'm talking about, of course, is

It's not like Microsoft had much choice in the matter. Even Brian Jones, an Office program manager, admitted in his blog that it was government demands that pushed Microsoft to finally do it (after he made some snarky comments that the firm hasn't seen much demand for it from corporate or consumer customers).

What I'm talking about, of course, is Microsoft's capitulation to finally support the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an XML-based file format for office applications standardized by OASIS in 2005.ODF is the format used by OpenOffice, the absolutely free competitor to Microsoft's pricey Office software suite. IBM, Sun, and Novell have already jumped on the ODF bandwagon. And a host of governments have announced their intention to use the standard--and to reject any office productivity software that refuses to support it. Take that, Microsoft.

As Jeff Kaplan points out in his blog, there was still a lot of ominous language in the official Microsoft announcement that illustrated Microsoft's true ambivalent attitude toward ODF, especially when related to Microsoft's own much-maligned scheme for interoperability, Open XML.

One example, to quote the Microsoft press release:

Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements. By developing the bidirectional translation tools through an open source project, the technical decisions and tradeoffs necessary will be transparent to everyone...In contrast, ODF focuses on more limited requirements.

What, exactly, will these "tradeoffs" be? And why does Microsoft call ODF "limited"--especially when compared to Open XML? After all, ODF delivers a solution for the longstanding problem of guaranteeing long-term access to critical data regardless of what program the data originated from.

And the ODF support will be delivered in the form of a plug-in--translation software that will require a download from SourceForge.net. This begs the question, why not just natively support ODF? As Joe Wilcox says in his Microsoft Monitor blog, why isn't Microsoft collaborating more directly with OASIS in order to work out some of the stickier technical issues? After all, Microsoft has said some Office features simply won't be supported due to the differences in formats between Open XML and ODF. Why not work directly with OASIS to resolve these difficulties?

Make no mistake, all skepticism aside, this is a very good thing. By creating the Open XML Translator project, Microsoft opens up the opportunity for companies and consumers alike to seriously consider more cost-effective replacements for Office. Also, anything that signals Microsoft's willingness--however grudgingly--to make further moves toward openness should be greeted with sincere bravos.

Still, the devil is in the details. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

What do you think? Will this change in Microsoft's attitude affect your choice of office productivity software? Or are you wedded to Office in ways that makes this announcement a moot point? Let me know by responding here.

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