Arnaud’s Open blog

Opinions on open source and standards

My take on why Microsoft finally decided to support ODF

People are a bit puzzled by today’s announcement that Microsoft will be adding native ODF support to Office 2007 and the timing of the announcement. People are asking: Why? Why now? Why not earlier?

Well, I don’t have any privileged insights so all I can offer is my own speculations but I think the answer might just be in the results of the ISO/IEC vote on OOXML.

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.

So, what else can they do? Balk. Finally admit the reality that ODF is here to stay and that there are many people out there that just won’t accept to be locked in anymore and try to save face by making it look like this is in line with their strategy… Fair enough I suppose. I don’t know how many they will fool but it doesn’t really matter.

Let’s not forget Microsoft is just a business trying to make money. They’ve proven in the past that they are quite resilient and can make radical changes when needed. This might just be one of those occurences.

Many of us knew that they were only gaining time anyway. Like building sand walls against the rising tide.

Let’s just now hope that Microsoft won’t try to play games anymore. Besides their rather poor track record at delivering on the ongoing chain of announcements about becoming open and caring about interoperability (as opposed to intraoperability), there are other reasons one might want to take today’s announcement with caution.

One trick they could try and pull for instance would be to put just enough support for ODF to claim that they support it but not enough for people to really use it systematically. They could then tell customers who complain something isn’t working that it’s because ODF isn’t powerful enough, and if they want the full power of Office they need to use OOXML.

That’d be a sneaky way to fulfill the ODF requirement set by customers and then force people into using OOXML anyway. Sneaky but not unlike Microsoft unfortunately. So, beware.

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May 21, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , , | 21 Comments