Why Open Office does not import/export Microsoft Office Open XML

Interesting opinion [Slashdot] from someone who says he is one of the founders of NeoOffice:

Yes, OpenXML import and export could be integrated into OOo [Open Office] today but engineering politics and Sun’s manipulation of the project to foment a document format war have kept this functionality out of OOo, doing nothing except harm users that need to seamlessly integrate with MS Office environments.

I’m inclined to agree. If niche player DocumentsToGo can implement this feature, is it so hard for Open Office? I doubt it. Now, I am sure that any such feature would not be perfect – but import/export features never are. Equally, I’d expect that it would work fine with the vast majority of documents that people email back and forth every day.

See also A Plague on both your houses.

PS Microsoft could also do a much better job with ODF import/export. These problems are more political than technical.

Update: note that according to this document “Office 12 import” is planned for the 3.0 release of Open Office, which is due in September 2008. There are no stated plans for export.

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13 comments on this post.
  1. Clyde Davies:

    Funny you should mention this. The Scientific American website, which I have always regarded as being a model of sobriety, seems to have its share of tendentious opinion as well on this subject: http://blog.sciam.com/index.php?title=micro_oft_gets_spanked_twice_in_one_week .I was of the opinion that OOXML *wasn’t* a clunky format, quite the opposite . Perhaps you should comment there to inject a note of *infromed* opinion.

  2. Rob Weir:

    “[T]he vast majority of documents that people email back and forth every day” — those are not in OOXML format. The format that is most widely in use, by huge margins, is the legacy binary formats, and OpenOffice supports these quite well. There simply isn’t any significant customer demand for OOXML format support yet in OpenOffice.

    Also, note that OOXML is not quite done yet. The specification could undergo significant changes between now and any eventual ISO approval. Implementing it now is risky. Of course, others may estimate the risk/reward ratio differently than I do, but I see OOXML as a high risk/low reward situation right now.

  3. Tim:

    There simply isn’t any significant customer demand for OOXML format support yet in OpenOffice.

    How are you measuring “significant”? I’d certainly find it useful, as I’m running both Linux and Windows.

    Tim

  4. Ben Langhinrichs:

    It is very hard to get a good, unbiased metric for “customer demand” in this case, but it seems fairly evident that most Microsoft Office users are still using binary formats. Besides anecdotal evidence, there is the very fuzzy metric I posted about here. Of course it doesn’t prove much that the Internet is not filled with Open XML documents, but it is suggestive given the enormous numbers of older style binary MS Office formats. The binary formats are far, far more widely supported, and will do for most people who would just find document interchange “useful”, at least until the Open XML format is stable.

  5. Tim:

    Ben,

    The problem I am seeing first-hand is that new machines arrive and have Office 2007 pre-installed. Users get to work and start emailing these documents or saving them to a file share, and end up in difficulty when some other user cannot open them. The Mac Office debacle proves that Microsoft rushed into this too quickly, no doubt as part of the OOXML campaign, but users are suffering and lack of support in Open Office plays its part in making this worse.

    People who are aware of the problems of document interchange use other formats, of course.

    Tim

    PS I am not sure why anyone would post a ooxml or an odf document on the Internet, unless they are unaware of the problems this causes.

  6. Clyde Davies:

    There simply isn’t any significant customer demand for OOXML format support yet in OpenOffice.

    Yeah, but it’s inevitable, isn’t it? Whatever happened to the idea of ‘taking a lead’?

    And as for the argument that OOXML isn’t finished yet, this ignores the obvious fact that Office 2007 must have some degree of stability in its own document format.

    Basically, I think your counter-arguments come across as being rather lame. Why not admit it’s all down to politics?

  7. Rob Weir:

    See this recent report for example, JISC’s “XML-based Office Document Standards”, specifically Appendix B: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/techwatch/tsw0702pdf.pdf

  8. Tim:

    Rob,

    Well, it seems to me silly to draw conclusions by measuring the number of documents on the web, in two formats neither of which are currently well suited for universal viewing. It is more sensible to use PDF, HTML, or even Microsoft binary formats – as indeed most people do, according to that table.

    It’s also unfortunate that the report you mention was written by the author of a book on Open Office.

    Sadly, balance in this debate is hard to come by.

    Tim

  9. Clyde Davies:

    I’d also like to point out, as someone who has worked with and in IT in both the academic and commercial sectors, that the academic world’s environment is very different to its commercial counterpart.

    So a treatise on document standards written from an academic perspective will have little relevance to a commercial company, let alone the poor old home user who got Word bundled with his machine but suddenly find he has to send documents to a Unix geek.

  10. Ben Langhinrichs:

    Tim -

    The fact is that well over 100,000 ODF documents ARE posted on the web, based on numbers which are neither academic (I don’t work in academia) nor created by a person who wrote OpenOffice (I really had nothing to do with it). I have had a chance to work with both Open XML and ODF, and prefer ODF, but that still isn’t the point. Microsoft Word 2007 users still, by and large, use the binary formats, from everything I can tell, and like it or not, it is a heck of a lot easier to access and use ODF documents at the moment. When I wanted to test a spreadsheet I created recently, I sent it to my 21 year old daughter as a .ODS file because she has a GMail account, so I knew she would have access to that format, and I wasn’t sure she would have access to Excel, because she has a Mac. Yesterday, I noticed that my 11 year old son was storing files in .ODT format, because he was using Google Docs at school and then could use my Lotus Notes 8 at home with the same documents. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data (I love that quote), but these are suggestive. There just isn’t an easy, and easily available, solution to read OOXML documents yet. I may not be a big fan of free software, but it does make itself more available to everybody.

    - Ben Langhinrichs

  11. Tim:

    Ben,

    What I am querying is the use of “how many docs can Google find on the Web” as a way of measuring the popularity of a format. Personally I let Office 2007 save in OOXML formats, but I would never deliberately post one on the Web; nor would I use ODF for that unless perhaps to a very specific group (Linux user group?). Email is different because you know something about the recipient.

    I would like to see both formats fully supported in MS Office and in Open Office because it makes life better for users.

    Tim

  12. Rob Weir:

    Tim, I agree with you that PDF or HTML is a more sensible publication format. However, the question is whether the sample that we have, based on documents on the web, reflects the overall distribution of documents . Do you have a reason, for example, to suspect that OOXML documents would be under-represented on the web compared to ODF documents or to legacy Office binary documents? It seems to me that the same forces that apply to OOXML also apply to ODF and DOC formats, that most will be behind corporate firewalls, etc. But why should a random OOXML document be less likely to be on the web than the random DOC or ODF document?

    The fact remains that for those who have decided to place editable formats on the web, almost none have done it in OOXML format, though 100x more people have done it in ODF format, and even more people in the legacy Office binary formats.

  13. Tim:

    Do you have a reason, for example, to suspect that OOXML documents would be under-represented on the web compared to ODF documents or to legacy Office binary documents?

    Rob, let me put it another way. If I wanted to measure the usage of OOXML vs ODF, I would not do it by measuring Google hits – bearing in mind that most read-write documents are not posted to the web, and that for those which are posted to the web, neither OOXML nor ODF is currently a suitable format (unless you also post alternatives, which is what Microsoft does, for example).

    Tim