foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world


Microsoft Office to support ODF

, posted: 22-May-2008 10:00

A rather remarkable piece of news: Microsoft will support the ODF standard in its Office suite (more coverage, Microsoft press release) This feature will come along in a service pack, which is expected to be released in the first half of 2009. So, nothing immediate, but still. An interesting discussion about this is currently going on over at Slashdot.

What's really noteworthy is that apparently the support for ODF will be available before (!) support for OOXML is delivered. In light of all this - and Microsoft's long history in fighting open standards - there are a number of theories as to why Microsoft is now doing this:
  1. OOXML support is delayed, and it cannot affort to be kicked out of those (government) accounts that require the use of an ISO standard. So it bites the bullet and implements 'that other' standard, just to stay in those accounts.
  2. Since nobody has seen their implementation yet (and won't be able to do so for a long time), there is some speculation that Microsoft will somehow cripple the ODF support. This would mean it follows the ISO standard requirement on paper, but in practice people will find it cumbersome to work with and thus will just continue to save in .doc format.
  3. Along the line of (1) and (2), by announcing ODF support now, they can possibly prevent organisations from seriously considering a move to OpenOffice for the time being. People will be hesitant to spend resources on re-training and even though ODF support in Office is still ways out, they now have a reason to hold on to Office for the time being. If they have gone the route of (2) then enough time will have passed so that we will be closer to OOXML support in Office. By the time those hold-outs have noticed that the ODF support may be crippled, they will then not have to wait that much longer for OOXML and thus can continue to stick with MS Office.
I also have to wonder how well ODF will be supported in other Microsoft products. People like the Microsoft suite of products because of its good integration. They don't want bits and pieces. So, if the remainder of the usual Microsoft infrastructure doesn't have good ODF support as well, people will still not use it much.

Speaking of SharePoint, here is a very different view on this all. According to that article, the actual document format doesn't matter so much to Microsoft anymore, since it moved vendor lock-in to the level above the files: The actual repository in which the information is kept. In this case: SharePoint:
Microsoft doesn't need to zealously guard file formats anymore. It already owns the next few decades of lock-in, and many enterprises are willy-nilly dumping their content into Microsoft's proprietary repository at a pace and in a manner that is as potentially destructive for those enterprises as it is beneficial to Microsoft's income.

... if Microsoft really wants to do its customers a favor, it will open up its repository to make it as easy to get content
out of the repository as it is to get it into the repository.
But not everyone is using SharePoint just yet. As pointed out by various commentators, this supporting ODF is also a danger for Microsoft: Once people have started to store documents in ODF, they eventually have to wonder why they don't just use OpenOffice instead. Pay for training once, and never pay for license fees again. Since the ODF ISO-standard will be available in Office before the OOXML ISO-'standard', those accounts that mandate standard formats are particularly threatened by this.

In the end, we will have to see what Microsoft's long term strategy is with ODF support in Office. It could be quite a gamble, though: To protect their short-term position, they may have opened the door to an alternative Office solution and possibly may have weakend themselves in the long-term.

Time will tell.


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Other related posts:
New Zealand's national broadcaster (TVNZ) discriminating against non-Windows users?
OOXML gets ISO blessing - bad for all of us
OOXML about to pass? Incredible irregularities reported






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New Zealand


  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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