Here’s a key snippet from yesterday’s interoperability announcement:
We’re also designing new APIs for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications that will enable developers to plug in additional document formats and allow users to select those formats as their default for saving documents.
Translation: if OOXML fails to get ISO standardisation, and/or if the rival ODF catches on or is mandated by institutions, then Microsoft wants you to keep using Office.
Product Manager Gray Knowlton has a little more detail here.
I’m not clear how extensive these changes are. Presumably it amounts to more than just tweaking the open and save dialogs to enable different defaults. Office applications already let you select from a range of different formats.
A few further comments. First, I’d like to see OOXML standardized. Aggressive IBM-sponsored lobbying has not convinced me this is a bad idea. And yes, I’ve pored over the spec and even done a little development with OOXML. Standardization tends to improve documentation and helps to protect developers from arbitrary changes.
I have seen some attacks on OpenXML saying it is not an “open” standard. I am quite puzzled by those attacks and think that OpenXML makes the case for open development of standards.
Understand that as the Project Editor for ISO/IEC 26300 and the OpenDocument Format TC editor in OASIS, I carry no brief for OpenXML. However, a well defined and publicly controlled OpenXML would be a great benefit for future work on the OpenDocument Format standard so I have no reason to wish it ill.
That does not mean Microsoft has done everything right. Microsoft’s Jean Paoli, now an evangelist for standardization, told me three years ago that OOXML was not suitable to be managed by a standards body. Why the change of heart? Simply, the threat of losing market share to a rival that was standardized. Microsoft had years of unchallenged Office supremacy in which it could have opened up its formats; but did nothing until its profits were threatened.
This should tell us something about the benefits of competition.
Despite Microsoft’s efforts, gains in ODF market acceptance will damage Microsoft Office. It will take more than a few API changes to make Microsoft Office as good an ODF editor as Open Office, which has a family relationship with the rival formats.
Standardization is only a small piece of this puzzle. On the Microsoft side, Office is a decent product with massive market dominance. On the ODF side, Open Office is also a decent product and is free and open source. The fight will still be on, no matter how the standards thing plays out.