As the ODF-OOXML world turns
June 2, 2008 1 Comment
I’m a bit behind on this, but it’s a topic I’ve been covering for a while now so I wanted to follow up. First, from the the 451 group:
Oh the drama. Most of us knew ISO approval of Microsoft’s OOXML format was not the end, but more of a beginning in the ongoing fight for the future’s file format. Any doubts of that were put to rest this week with a flurry of activity around OOXML’s approval, ODF adoption, Microsoft’s support and the stance of U.S. states and other governments.
Much of it started with Microsoft’s announcement that it would expand its Office 2007 format support, including ODF. The move, which means Office 2007 users will be able to set ODF as their default file format, is further evidence of changes at Microsoft and the need to support multiple formats and interoperability. However, it still drew criticism from a number of ODF proponents/OOXML opponents, whose concerns include the typical Microsoft skepticism, but also center on the software giant’s OOXML approval campaign and previous statements downplaying the market for ODF.
We also saw further objection to ISO’s OOXML approval, primarily an appeal from South Africa. As format expert and saga watcher Andy Updegrove points out here, the appeal centers on the approval process and also on the ‘business basis’ for OOXML’s fast-track approval. Despite that relatively rapid approval, Updegrove points out that, ironically, Microsoft Office users will not have the opportunity to use the file format until Microsoft’s coming Office 14, expected in 2010 at the earliest.
Microsoft credited customer and government demand for its new found ODF love, but we also saw indications it may also involve difficulties in backward compatibility with OOXML. As ZDNet’s Tom Espiner points out, ‘The company now says OOXML support would require substantially more work.’ This comes as no surprise to many open source software users who have come to the same conclusion over the years. In fact, the inability of Microsoft to support different versions of its own Office and format software has fueled many OpenOffice.org downloads over the last few years, including my own.
Still, customer demand as the reasoning behind Microsoft’s ODF support was reinforced by yet another development in the ongoing format saga: findings from the State of New York. While the state’s officials indicated it would be a mistake to name ODF or OOXML as the standard of choice, New York’s format wonks did indicate that openness is the path to the future. That does not necessarily mean ODF, but it certainly makes it more likely given the controversy, uncertainty and drama still surrounding OOXML.
Since that post, Brazil and India have also decided to appeal. The deadline to appeal has now passed. The India post by Andy contains some good “what comes next” information for those that are interested. The appeals all have some items in common, but each also has points made only by that country. It’s clear that Microsoft did some very shady things during this process. It’s a sad indication that the company is still not willing to compete on the merits of its products on the one hand. On the other hand, they recently announced that Office 2007 would support ODF but not OOXML:
Microsoft today announced that it would update Office 2007 to natively support ODF 1.1, but not to implement its own OOXML format. Moreover, it would also join both the OASIS working group as well as the ISO/IEC JTC1 working group that has control of the ISO/IEC version of ODF. Implementation of DIS 29500, the ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of OOXML that has still not been publicly released will await the release of Office 14, the ship date of which remains unannounced.
So they fast track an office format while a competing one already exists, push it through the approval process using tactics that are questionable at best and then decide to only implement the competing standard in the current shipping product. You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s clear that the internal battle within Microsoft is still raging. Part of the company really want to change, but part of it really doesn’t. It remains to be seen which side will prevail, but it’s not difficult to see why many in the Open Source community remain wary.