Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

OOXML, ODF, and migration costs

There is an important point I want to make about what people need to consider when contemplating whether to move to ODF or not.

Some people seem to think that the choice they have is to either stick with the status quo – Microsoft Office -, or disrupt the status quo and adopt ODF, with the assumption that the former is easier and a more natural progression than the latter.

This is missing a very important point: OOXML is NOT the status quo, it is a NEW format, just like ODF. As such its adoption presents challenges very similar to those of the adoption of ODF.

OOXML, just like ODF, requires a migration.

Moving to ODF, means deploying new software, training people to that software, developing support for it, etc, plus disrupting your work environment by introducing a format not everybody may be ready to deal with. The cost of that migration is undoubtedly the biggest barrier to the adoption of ODF. Yet, the same applies to OOXML.

Indeed, moving to OOXML means moving to the new Microsoft Office application, training people to it, developping support for it, etc, and, just like with ODF, disrupting your work environment by introducing a new format.

Even though I don’t have actual numbers to back this up, I think it’s fair to say that the incurred cost ought to be similar on the migration front. Given that, and considering that there are several freely available offerings for ODF, I’ll then venture to say that migration to ODF is actually likely to be cheaper because it saves you from having to pay Microsoft Office license fees.

In a desperate attempt to disrupt the momentum behind ODF Microsoft hurried to create a standard they could claim to support. Yet, this new proprietary format in disguise faces the same challenges as the format they are trying to stop: cost of migration.

So, remember that when it’s time for you to choose. The choice you have to make is not between adopting a new format ODF or sticking with Microsoft Office. It is between migrating to ODF or migrating to OOXML, both new formats, ODF being an open standard for which offerings are freely available.


November 2, 2007 - Posted by | standards | , ,


  1. Good point, and don’t forget the inherent barrier that MS-OOXML establishes to using any other application. While September and October saw twelve existing or new applications implement ODF, not a single one has for MS-OOXML. Microsoft does not allow ODF documents to be viewed in IE7, and try going through the six [circuitous] steps it takes to save a file in ODF format within Office 2007.

    Microsoft is now using desperate measures to retain or gain users for their products (Mandriva, ISO debacle, lobbying state legislators to defeat various open document proposals around the US, etc.). If you migrate to MS-OOXML, unlike .doc format, you’re stuck in code mud, which spelled any other way is “lock-in.”

    Comment by Zaine Ridling | November 3, 2007 | Reply

  2. If you search for “Lotus SmartSuite” on the IBM web site , then (as well as being shown how to buy SmartSuite) it suggests you might want to download IBM Lotus Symphony at no charge from

    The writing is on the wall, for single-vendor formats.

    I don’t think any salesmen are on quota to sell SmartSuite. But there are a number on quota to sell IBM Lotus Notes. That’s ISO26300, too, with 130 million users or so.

    Comment by Chris Ward | November 3, 2007 | Reply

  3. I think the problem is ‘workflows’. Businesses have investments in processes which sort-of by accident have Microsoft Office built in as a dependency.

    For example, at my local zoning board, the secretary gets presented with a document, keys a comment, and presses a button. Off it goes to be printed, filed, presented to committee for approval, etc.

    You or I would do it in Java, or Lotus Notes, or through a web browser and Websphere.

    Zoning board did it with Microsoft Office. And don’t have the skills or the investment capital to change.

    Comment by Chris Ward | November 3, 2007 | Reply

  4. That’s where you and I, Chris, have to figure out how to use tools like Alfresco and Daisy to hook into ODF files and make creating workflows for our businesses and local agencies easier with ODF-enabled tools than comparable OOXML tools.

    My town bid out its Web site, with IIS and Server 2003 being among the requirements. A look at Netcraft 8 months later shows Zeus 3.3 on Linux. Without any inside knowledge of what happened, I’m guessing that this vendor offered an easier and less expensive package that the town council could not pass up.

    We can do the same thing with business processes and workflows. If you can show how over five or ten years, your solution is the only cost-effective one, even PHBs will consider your product / service.

    Comment by lnxwalt | December 5, 2007 | Reply

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