After success in getting its own Open XML document format passed by the International Standards Organization, Microsoft said Wednesday that it would move to support the Open Document Format and now-standardized PDF in Office 2007 during the first half of next year, when the company releases the second service pack for the productivity software.
In Office 2007 SP2, users will be able to open, edit, and save ODF documents and save documents as PDFs as well as set the software to automatically save documents in those file formats by default. The increased support also includes its own XML Paper Specification and later the Chinese national document format, Uniform Office Format, for Chinese customers.
Governments and some other organizations are beginning to require that their productivity software includes support for standard document formats, and Microsoft clearly wants to keep a large piece of the pie.
"In supporting these standards, we're providing a platform for greater innovation and growth in the ecosystem," Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of standards and interoperability, said in an interview. "We want to get out of the political realm, focus on what matters most to customers, and then take concrete steps to meet their needs."
Microsoft and Adobe had fought over the inclusion of PDF as a default file format in Office 2007, with Microsoft ultimately conceding the battle by only offering PDF support as an add-on, rather than in the base version of the software as it had earlier sought to do. Now that PDF is in the control of a standards body, Adobe no longer has any say over whether Microsoft can include support for it in Office.
Despite the focus on increased standards support in Office (all of the new file formats have been accepted as standards either internationally or nationally), Microsoft will not support the standardized version of its own Open XML format until the release of Office 14, which is expected in late 2009 or early 2010. According to Robertson, that's because of the substantial work required to ensure that the standardized version of Open XML would be backwards compatible with the version found in Office 2007. For the time being, at least while Office 2007 continues to ramp up, anyway, Microsoft's old binary file formats continue to be the dominant document formats.
Not only will Office users be able to save and edit these standardized formats, but Microsoft will join the standards bodies overseeing development and maintenance of the formats themselves. Microsoft will join the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards to participate in the evolution of ODF, AIIM to participate in the evolution of PDF, and the International Standards Organization's working group on Open XML.
Microsoft also will join an emerging working group at the International Standards Organization that aims to improve interoperability between ODF and Open XML. The new working group will look at the relationship between the different formats and do mapping between them to define similarities and differences. Microsoft also will work to create document templates optimized for several different file formats.
Robertson said it's even possible that if the working group is successful, it could eventually provide a template for unifying ODF and Open XML, but added that it's less clear if that's what customers want.
"That's a dialogue that will naturally take place over time," he said. "Do you want to continue to see diversity in the marketplace in terms of formats? We'll see what the market does."
Separately, Microsoft has an effort under way called the Document Interoperability Initiative, which has as one of its goals the mission to provide a set of standard baseline document libraries made available to anyone implementing Open XML to provide interoperability among implementers.