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 »

  1. I can’t see them messing with their ODF implementation. Some in mangement might like to, but three things tell me they will have to/are on the up and up.

    1) You can add your own ODF plugin (which will be pervasive and ready probably the same time MS’s native one is)
    2) They can’t afford any more bad PR on standards.
    3) Their version will be beat on by thousands of truly gifted people just looking for said defects and if they are intentionally there, more scandal.

    TripleII

    Comment by TripleII | May 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. I hope you’re right but I don’t think it’s as obvious as you say.

    1) very few people are willing to deal with the hassle of installing plugins – look how few people install Firefox, even though it is free, easy to install, and much better than IE.

    2) I actually don’t think they got quite as much bad PR as they deserved and I keep being amazed by how much they seem to be able to get away with, somehow.

    3) People have been complaining about IE not fully supporting the W3C standards (HTML+CSS) for years without much effect. The type of scandal you’re talking about doesn’t seem to take place in this industry for some reason.
    The whole OOXML debacle with all of its scandals didn’t even make it to the mainstream media.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | May 21, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] explanation of Microsoft’s strategic motives: Indeed, while OOXML has garnered enough votes to pass, several major countries including China, […]

    Pingback by Boycott Novell » Taking Stock of Microsoft’s Vapourware Announcement | May 21, 2008 | Reply

  4. What’s the point of having a standardization committee if several major countries are rejecting the voted standard ? Does it mean ISO lost its credibility ?

    Comment by ph kaplan | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  5. “The whole OOXML debacle with all of its scandals didn’t even make it to the mainstream media.”

    The Hans Reiser murder trial was the only event covered by the Media that was related to this industry in recent memory. It’s a very strange phenomenon. I hope see an explanation some day.

    Comment by Richard Chapman | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  6. Just don’t forget OOXML does not yet exist; just OXML.

    Don’t be fooled by Microsoft confusing strategy !

    Comment by Jess | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  7. It’s a trap. Duh. It’s always a trap with these guys. It will support ODF poorly. Count on it.

    It will read ODF documents from OO.o (embrace). Then it will add its own proprietary nonsense that technically meets the ODF specification and adds what seems to be important functionality (extend). The proprietary nonsense will not be interpreted in the same way by OO.o (extinguish). Cross-application compatibility is not planned and it could not be intended because that would be a violation of the corporation’s contract with its shareholders to maximize profits.

    I wish I didn’t have to explain this to people over and over. It’s ALWAYS a trap. It’s not going to stop being a trap. There is no genuine openness intended and there never was. It’s explicitly denied by the vendor. This vendor calls openness a “cancer”. This vendor thinks all your documents are belong to them. That is not going to change. Accept that all your documents belong to them or get another software vendor. Duh.

    Comment by symbolset | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  8. I think MS will put a decent effort into ODF. There may be some legitmate holes in the format that they can’t deal with at the moment, but with whole countries moving to ODF compliant software, what choice will they have. They can not afford to lose half the business in their cash cow.

    If it’s a bad implementation the EU will be on them again. It costs way too much in lawyer fees and fines rather than just doing the job and getting it over with.

    I’m still a WordPerfect user, and am waiting until I can get X4 to have ODF support in a product I like. I use IBM’s Symphony for the rest. (I’ve got to support IBM, just my blue blood I guess).

    Comment by Bill | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  9. s/bulk/balk/

    Comment by Mark | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  10. According to a report out today, India eGovernment is moving to add OOXML to its list of approved file formats. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20080531&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=20

    Also, Softies have already said that MS Office users will experience lossiness in saving to ODF. http://www.betanews.com/article/Microsofts_Matusow_and_Mahugh_on_Offices_move_to_open_format_support/1211408119/1

    Comment by Marbux | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  11. Microsoft Office will produce fully compliant ODF documents, so it will comply with standards. ODF is fully documented, unrestricted by patents, and unbroken unlike OOXML, so producing ISO compliant ODF files is no problem for Microsoft. What I believe it won’t do, because of a deliberate Microsoft policy to do do so, is that Microsoft Office will not incorporate all the content or formatting in a document saved by Microsoft Office into ODF – to do that you would have to save it in OOXML. Doug Mahugh, program manager for ISO 29500-based products, as Microsoft is on record as stating this, of course the excuse they are giving is that it isn’t technically feasible to faithfully save Microsoft content in ODF, which is complete and utter bull. http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20080522012330406

    In order to prevent Microsoft from practicing this form of monopoly abuse, what the EU needs to do is require that Microsoft provides access to all the APIs and internal formats in MS Office that Microsoft has available to itself to write filters, to third parties developing plug-ins. That way if Microsoft provides only broken filters for ODF in MS Office, then the road is open for others to do so.

    People living in the EU, including Microsoft customers should submit a complaint to the EU anti-trust website for complaints that relate to consumers, requesting that they have no confidence that Microsoft will provide anything other than broken or limited ODF filters and quoting Doug Mahugh as having said this, and ask the EU to insist on full documentation and access to APIs in MS Office to allow third party developers to write file save and load filters with all the information and API call access that Microsoft has to write its own save and load code.

    The complaint to the EU anti-trust authorities should be made to:
    http://ec.europa.eu/comm/competition/forms/consumer_form.html

    Comment by SPM | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  12. @1: A good plugin is already available from Sun. People can buy Office 2007 right now and add the Sun plugin. In fact, it also works with Office 2000, XP or 2003! If it makes the difference to a sale, Microsoft can use this option already.

    Comment by David Gerard | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  13. I think the strongest defence against MS saying that ODF is not powerful enough is to ensure that any features they do not implement are implemented in several other ODF compliant applications so that it can be clearly demonstrated that it is a problem with MS software rather than ODF.

    It is probably worth thinking up a few things that other apps can do that can’t be done with MS Office.

    Comment by J DAvies | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  14. Microsoft in their statement said they will not be able to export some features of MS Office documents to the ODF file format.

    This is to be expected. The question I have is how is someone who is creating a document with MS Office to know that what they are doing will not export to ODF? When do you discover that your document is broken?

    There has always been the problem with Microsoft’s treatment of standards, where they take something, add extensions, then because of their dominant market position, when they get tired of it, they drop support for the thing and it dies.

    Comment by Gostak | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  15. […] Bob Sutor and Andy Updegrove comment. See also Arnaud’s comments. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)MacBU Releases Word 2007 Document Converter A […]

    Pingback by Microsoft Adding More Formats To Office 2007 « Opportunity Knocks | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  16. I am not the best person to comment on this but I do know this that open source is getting more pervasive. I say this with personal experience of searching for some one who could help me with finding a good open source operating system since I am still a XP user. This would have been a tall ask sometime back but now its more easy to find someone who has worked on it extensively in my own city. This is another very big step forward.

    The open source community has to get a bit more aggressive I would say to make popular the strength and flexibility of their products. From my interactions with people I have realized that most don’t embrace open source because they don’t know if everything will work in it and if there is ample support if there are issues. Once that mental block is removed then you will need to create a local support structure to trouble shoot issues at the city of town levels which is going to take a bit more time but the more people we convince to take up open source the bigger the pool becomes and this in turn has the sustainability and ability to add more users.

    I don’t know how relevant this comment is for this post but I am a new convert to open source and am positive that open source is getting bigger and catching speed.

    P.S. Someone said that Firefox is not very popular. I don’t know how true it is because most of my friend who otherwise are Windows junkies seem to have Firefox as their default web browser, me included. Maybe its a case of slow and steady wins the race :).

    Comment by Sriram | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  17. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to ensure that children in their schools have access to a variety of document creation and display software.

    Microsoft Office, IBM Lotus Notes, and Sun StarOffice would be a reasonable start, if you wanted to stick to ones that you buy. Apple ‘iWork’, too, maybe. Vendors all give good educational discounts, just ask.

    OpenOffice.org , IBM Lotus Symphony, and Google Apps, are in my opinion useful to add to the list.

    The children will soon learn how to interoperate, and the value of being able to.

    Providing one to the exclusion of all others … which is currently Microsoft Office … is doing the children no favours. And thereby doing the rest of the world no favours either.

    Comment by Chris Ward | May 24, 2008 | Reply

  18. This is exactly what they did with POSIX and NT.
    They implemented just enough POSIX to qualify as POSIX conformant, but not enough to make it a usable environment, then made certain that it was completely walled off from the Windows/NT environment making it even more useless.

    So all those procurement requirements for POSIX were successfully circumvented, but the system was essentially useless as a POSIX environment.

    I would expect the same level of “support” for ODF.

    Comment by Philip Peake | May 24, 2008 | Reply

    • Really, Hat’s off. Well done, as we know that “hard work always pays off”, after a long struggle with sincere effort it’s done. This action proof to be a win, win situation. This is a true art work, which will be a success story.There’s usually a good bunch of talent nominated- they just don’t usually win.
      ===========================================
      Support for Technology

      Comment by luciyahelan | June 14, 2010 | Reply

  19. […] Arnaud Le Hors asks that about MS-OOXML and Microsoft’s announcement that they will allow ODF as a native file format in Office 2007-SP1 (or a later version of MS Office). Microsoft’s persistent failure and crude spin on their shared source initiative relative to open source has been both sad and sophomoric, dependent upon users’ willful ignorance of the obvious. […]

    Pingback by The Great Software List blog » What if you had an ISO standard and no one used it? | May 31, 2008 | Reply

  20. The open source community has to get a bit more aggressive I would say to make popular the strength and flexibility of their products. From my interactions with people I have realized that most don’t embrace open source because they don’t know if everything will work in it and if there is ample support if there are issues. Once that mental block is removed then you will need to create a local support structure to trouble shoot issues at the city of town levels which is going to take a bit more time but the more people we convince to take up open source the bigger the pool becomes and this in turn has the sustainability and ability to add more users.
    =================================================
    Support for Technology

    Comment by luciyahelan | June 14, 2010 | Reply


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