An Indian colleague just pointed me to a Microsoft press release “Microsoft Expands Document Interoperability: Company to Sponsor Open Source Project for Open XML-ODF File Translation to Deliver More Choice for Government Customers and Their Constituents.” I had heard rumors that something important was going to happen. Maybe it will, but this isn’t it, yet.
In response to the requirements from Massachusetts and others, several groups around the world have been working on plug-ins to make Microsoft Office smart about ODF. As more and more governments require ODF support, this will be one way that it is provided, at least in the short term. Some people may choose alternative software that provides better, more native support for ODF and that is their choice. Open standards are all about choice.
While it starts out well, the press release quickly jumps to the same old arguments that they have been making that have been refuted left and right.
“Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements.”
Well, ODF was designed for people who use spreadsheets, word processors, and presentations. Open XML was designed for people who use Microsoft spreadsheets, word processors and presentations.
“The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, helping protect customers’ intellectual investments.”
There are virtually no documents in existence that use the Open XML formats; any existing binary Office documents will have to be translated to it, warts and all, including every odd subformat that has been tried through the years, successful or not.
One of the arguments around ODF from the beginning was around the long term preservation of customer information. This is one of the reasons why ODF was created. It is still an important reason why momentum around it continues.
“In contrast, ODF focuses on more limited requirements, is architected very differently and is now under review in OASIS subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options.”
All right, all right, ODF is under active development by a worldwide community of experts not under the control of a single vendor who are making it state of the art in such areas as accessibility! We admit it!
ODF is architected to make it widely implementable and to easily fit into customer and government workflow. That is, ODF is architected in a modern way to make information more widely usable and to enable broad innovation. Many applications on all sorts of platforms and devices both now and in the future will be able to take advantage of ODF’s clean design to improve customer value. Vive le difference!
Microsoft, to be blunt, join this group to help advance the state of the art instead of just defending your own turf and making these left handed compliments. I’m really very pleased that you are responding to global customer demand for ODF and are publicly admitting that it will play an important role. It’s a good start on your path to first class, native, and default support for ODF. (You don’t get that hug yet, though.)
When that happens, that will be news. Right now you are just duplicating work done by others, but, as I said, if this is really an honest first step to full, enthusiastic support for ODF, then I applaud your action. Do cut the insults about ODF in the process, it sort of dilutes your message.
This action by Microsoft is one in a long series of positive, momentum building events surrounding the OpenDocument Format and open standards in general. In my opinion, it is explicit recognition that open standards are the most important way of enabling software interoperability.
I expect that this will significantly accelerate the adoption of ODF by governments around the world. That is, ODF will be increasingly recognized as the primary, best and unique international open standard for document interchange. This will be cemented into IT policies by more and more IT departments and agencies around the world at a faster rate.
Update: I provide a lot of links to the early stories about this development here.