Thursday, 22 May 2008

Microsoft Office to Support ODF, but not OOXML

Microsoft has turned in it's tracks today and announced that Office 2007 will be supporting the ODF format. Just a few weeks ago Microsoft was saying that their own format was good enough for everyone, and they didn't need any "competing format". However, it seems they have changed their mind very quickly, preferring the ODF format even to their own ISO standard, OOXML.

What is even more surprising, is that Microsoft has said they will not include OOXML in Office 2007. Users will have to wait for the release of Office 14 to get support for this format. David Worthington reports:
... the company is not quick to embrace its own creation. Mahugh stated that Microsoft would not implement the final ISO version of OOXML until Office 14 ships at an unstated date in the future. This variant of OOXML was designated ISO/IEC 29500 at the time it was certified as an ISO International standard in April.

“One way to look at it is the prioritization of formats,” Mahugh explained. “We reach a point in time where we have to decide whether to continue to invest in a previous version [of Office] or to cut the cord and move forward.”

ODF support was a priority for Microsoft, Mahugh noted, adding that “real world” customers say that there is a pressing need for PDF [AU: ODF?] support. “At this point there are no products using [ISO/IEC 29500] in the marketplace.”
While Microsoft claims to be supporting "open" standards with this latest move, many critics think that this is simply a lock-in trick, designed to keep users on Microsoft Office by introducing propitiatory "extensions" to the standard. This would introduce a perpetual cycle of "Microsoft breaks the standard, the world adapts the standard, and Microsoft breaks it again" But regardless of Microsoft's intent, this is certainly an admission that open standards are having a big impression on Microsoft, and the IT industry in general. They can no longer afford to rely on monopolistic tactics to lock in users, but are being forced to comply (at least partly) with others. Let's hope that this latest move truly does drive innovation and openness in the field.

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