RealTime IT News

Critics Blast Microsoft Despite ODF Support Pledge

You'd think that Microsoft's critics would be pleased that the company plans to add native support for the competing OpenDocument Format (ODF) to Office 2007 within a year.

Instead, many went on the attack.

The software titan said Wednesday that Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2) will let users select ODF 1.1 as the default format for saving and retrieving files in Office.

ODF is the major competition for the Microsoft-originated Office Open XML (OOXML) document interchange format. The company plans to ship Office 2007 SP2 in the first half of 2009.

The announcement is one of several moves Microsoft officials say it's making to improve Office's openness and its ability to interoperate with competing products and formats in response to customer demand.,

However, not all ODF supporters are applauding Microsoft's promise to add built-in interoperability for the format into future Office versions.

Instead, some suggested it was a stopgap measure in response to its inability to implement its own recently-standardized OOXML format. In an ironic turn of events, the format has become inoperable with Office, despite the fact that OOXML began as Office 2007's default file format.

"Why will Microsoft [support ODF] after so many years of refusal?" wrote ODF supporter Andy Updegrove, a Linux Foundation board member, in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

"Perhaps because the only way it will be able to deliver a product to government customers for some time that meets an ISO [International Organization for Standardization] document format standard may be by finally taking the plunge, and supporting 'that other format,'" Updegrove said.

Microsoft officials contend OOXML support will come too, although not until the company ships the next major release of its productivity application suite -- codenamed "Office 14". (Codename watchers take note: Office 2007 had been codenamed "Office 12", and there will be no product named "Office 13".)

The company has yet to confirm a date for Office 14, but published reports suggest it may also ship in the first half of 2009.

Other critics simply don't trust Microsoft.

"Because Microsoft has a history of broken promises, no one should celebrate this news until we see what is actually done and how quickly it is put in place," Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's interoperability chief tried to remain philosophical about the outcry.

"There are people who will find fault with any step that we take," Jason Matusow, senior director of interoperability at the company, told InternetNews.com.

Other industry watchers are chiming in to support Microsoft's announced plan to integrate ODF support and make good on earlier promises of increased openness.

"There are people who think that any move by Microsoft is nefarious," Guy Creese, vice president and research director for collaboration and content strategies at the Burton Group, told InternetNews.com. "I think it is a brilliant political move ... when they say, 'We support ODF,' they really mean it. It adds some action to the words."

For ODF supporters, however, the outcry also signals continuing, international frustration with the software giant.

"The ODF Alliance effort is bearing real fruit around the world," Ken Wasch, president of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and a longtime critic of Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. "Everywhere else but the U.S., putting a stick in Microsoft's eye gets you a medal."

An epic conflict over standards

Much of the battle over document interchange formats has been driven by governments' need to archive electronic records for the same length of time required to save old paper documents -- in some cases, hundreds of years.

Establishing format standards is seen as important because they can ensure documents won't be rendered inaccessible over time as proprietary formats change. This puts the onus on software makers to support standards or face the possibility of being frozen out of lucrative government bids.