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Taking Stock of Microsoft's Vapourware Announcement

GNOME GeditSome recommended readings and quick notes...

For those who are lost in translation or find themselves fooled by Microsoft's PR pitch, which has already overwhelmed the media, here are some bits of information worth considering. We posted our views some hours ago and none have radically changed since then, having glanced at a lot more articles and perspectives.

The response from Marino Marcich you can find in The Register.

Don't get too excited by this outbreak of peace. SP2 isn’t due until the first half of 2009, meaning you've got a good year before you can save an Office 2007 document using ODF. Ahead of that lies SP1, due at the beginning of June.

There is also no word on if, or when, SPs will be delivered that bring ODF and PDF to the vast install base of customers and developers working with older versions of Office.

Accordingly, the ODF Alliance, the group of vendors and national bodies leading ODF, has warned against premature celebrations saying we should wait and see what Microsoft actually delivers in SP2. ODF Alliance managing director Marino Marcich said the proof of Microsoft’s commitment to openness would be whether ODF support is on a par with Open XML.

He pointed to Microsoft's promise two years ago to support ODF, when it backed an existing BSD project for an Open XML Translator. The project, to deliver an Office add-on to save documents in ODF, is also due in the first half of 2009. That software has not been finished, and it’s not clear whether today’s announcement for support will use the translator.

“Until Microsoft enables Office users to create and save in ODF by default as easily and fully as in Microsoft's own formats, governments will continue to adopt a 'buyer beware' attitude,” Marcich said in a statement.

Significantly, Microsoft is not quite ready to give up on its ODF rival, Open XML, that it's been busy railroading through standards bodies across the globe.


Another explanation of Microsoft's strategic motives:

Indeed, while OOXML has garnered enough votes to pass, several major countries including China, India, and Brazil among others, voted against it. It is safe to assume that, in accordance with the opinion the expressed through this vote, those countries will not adopt OOXML as a national standard either. India has already decided so for one. I know the same is true for South Africa. The same will probably be true for others.

Now, think about this for a minute. This is a huge market that Microsoft cannot address with Office as it stands. Can they really disregard a market that size? I don’t think so. If not, what can they do about it?

Well, they can keep trying to fight countries decisions not to adopt OOXML but if they haven’t managed to achieve that already, despite all the efforts they put in, including some rather unethical if not illegal ones, their chances of success on that front are pretty slim.


The story he refers to when he talks about illegal efforts is probably scarcely understood. Not only has Microsoft used non-profits for influence. It paid them also, just days before the vote.

Vapourware comes not only to our own minds.

Ivar Jachwitz, the deputy managing director of Standards Norway, the country's national standards setting body which adopted ODF as a recommended format for government archives, said the final proof of Microsoft's commitment to ODF and interoperability will be seen next year, when the updated version of Office 2007 reaches consumers."We have heard a lot of promises from Microsoft but as of yet, we are hoping for results," Jachwitz said.


This person from Standards Norway must have seen not only the vote-rigging but some other interesting revelations too. Moreover, he could possibly just approach the Noway-based Opera for testimonies about Microsoft's false promises and sometimes the obstruction of justice.

ODF formatLet's consider some possibilities very quickly. Microsoft could 'support' ODF because:

  1. It was forced to do so, e.g. by regulators
  2. It needs to rescue or earn back contracts that it's losing
  3. It has decided to be nice, convincing shareholders that it's the better way to go (image over brutality)
  4. It cannot comply with OOXML, implicitly acknowledging that it's a broken specification


Looking at possibility (1) again, could the whole thing have come only after pressure from the European Commission? The following article was published only yesterday and its headline says it all.

Force Microsoft to Support ODF, Group Asks EC



The British government's agency in charge of plotting IT usage among schools has asked the European Commission to force Microsoft to offer native out-of-the-box support for the Open Document Format (ODF) file standard in Microsoft Office, and not just Microsoft's own OpenXML format. Without an easy way to support ODF in Office, children's education will suffer, according to the complaint from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, or Becta.


Open questions from Bob Sutor give away his reasons for skepticism:

In the interest of providing a bit more to think about beyond what was evidently said on this, here are a few open questions:

* What are the plans for supporting ODF 1.2, now reaching completion in OASIS? * Will it be extraordinarily easy for users to set ODF as the default save format so that this becomes regular practice for most people? * Will there eventually be backwards native support in versions of Office before 2007, or will people need to upgrade? * Hey, Apple, what about you? Let’s see you do this in iWork!



In addition, also from the same blog, the newly-available New York State study that we mentioned earlier is further inspected here. It highlights the redundancy of a second standard.

Regardless of Microsoft's motives, as was already argued earlier, this is a big win for ODF but not necessarily for Free software. It's too early to tell because there are many factors to weigh. Erwin says that "OpenOffice.org will have a strong presence at LinuxTag 2008 in Berlin [Germany]," which is not surprising given the rapid adoption of ODF in that country and even strong ISV support for OpenOffice.org, especially in Germany. For those among the readers who develop software, this new blog which is called ODF Tools might be worth a glance too.

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