ODF support in Microsoft Office: a sign of strength, or weakness?

Big news in the document format wars today. Microsoft is (as far as I can tell) properly supporting ODF in Office. The press release states that both ODF and PDF will be fully integrated into Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This means Save As, not Export; and the possibility of setting ODF as a default save format.

The release adds:

Microsoft will join the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) technical committee working on the next version of ODF and will take part in the ISO/IEC working group being formed to work on ODF maintenance.

Reading the release, and comments by Doug Mahugh, it looks as if this is different code from the hopeless CleverAge translator, an open source project on SourceForge. That uses XSLT, which is inefficient for large documents and always seemed to me the wrong approach to take.

It seems that despite achieving ISO standardization for its own Open XML format, Microsoft is responding to pressure from large customers, especially in government and education, who want full ODF support.

Having said that, there are bound to be technical issues over the import and export. We have to wait to see the list of what may be converted incorrectly, or is not supported.

Let’s presume Microsoft has done a good job. Is this good for the company, or bad? Open Office does not support Open XML (don’t you love how everything is called “Open”), so this boosts ODF and therefore Open Office by making it more widely compatible. On the other hand, it could avoid lost sales to customers who would otherwise abandon Microsoft Office for lack of ODF support, which helps Microsoft. In the end, it’s hard to say how this will play out in terms of market share.

That said, it is undoubtedly good for users. Kudos to Microsoft for doing something to make their lives easier.

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2 comments to ODF support in Microsoft Office: a sign of strength, or weakness?

  • Diego

    I sicerely doubt Microsoft is doing it to make the lives of their users easier. In my opinion, they just realized how much is on the stake now, and have accepted a small loss (part of their enormous market share and ability to force upgrades through file format changes) as a way of not losing a lot (after all, they remember the old days when Wordperfect was the king and word just a tiny competitor).

    To me, it seems a lot like the HTML battlefield: They are (and feel) slower than the competition and try to be on par enough time to exhaust the other players.

  • Actually, the now-in-beta OO.o 3.0 promises OOXML support, and the Novell edition of OO.o has some level of it now.

    I’m not sure about the quality, but now that there may be more forums for the respective parties to talk to each other, that should only improve.