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As the ODF-OOXML world turnsJay Lyman, May 23, 2008 @ 2:06 pm ET
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.
Microsoft’s increased and improved support for ODF is real and it reinforces the idea that Redmond is moving to support open source, open standards and interoperability in response to customers, rather than contentions from critics or requirements from antitrust regulators. Microsoft will certainly continue to work to support and promulgate OOXML and the format has a friend in the broad use of Microsoft’s Office software. However, as OOXML faces continued skepticism, ISO appeals and an EU investigation, ODF (ISO approved in 2006 without controversy) stands ready for use with broad vendor support, growing adoption and, after this week, momentum.
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