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Microsoft's Office dominance is in no immediate peril

Private sector shows little interest in adopting OpenDocument alternative

By Carol Sliwa
March 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The governments of Massachusetts, Belgium and Hong Kong are game to try the Open Document Format for Office Applications. But in corporations from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Cincinnati, there’s scant usage and little planning for it.

The XML-based OpenDocument format is one of the technologies that could free IT managers to realistically consider alternatives to Microsoft Corp.’s dominant Office suite.

But Computerworld polls of IT managers suggest that Microsoft’s stranglehold on the office applications market isn’t in any imminent danger.

At last week’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Palm Desert, Calif., a whopping 88% of 210 respondents to an electronic poll indicated they either hadn’t considered an alternative to Office or had done so only casually.

Office’s proprietary binary formats have often forced companies to stick with the suite so they can open documents from their external business partners. Standard XML, if widely adopted, would alter the situation that has led to vendor lock-in.

But in an e-mail poll of more than 50 corporate IT managers, a majority of respondents said they have no plans to use ODF — though they do have plans to use Microsoft’s Office Open XML, the default format in the new Office 2007 suite.

When asked which format she favors, an IT director at a major automaker replied, “In theory, ODF, but pragmatism will drive us to Office Open XML.”

Staying the Course

The desktop plans at The Procter & Gamble Co., one of the bellwethers among large IT buyers, illustrate why ODF is struggling in the private sector. The Cincinnati-based consumer goods giant employs 140,000 people, and, because of its size, finds it difficult to make dramatic changes, said Filippo Passerini, P&G’s global services officer and CIO.

This year, P&G will roll out the time-tested Office 2003 across the company, not the new Office 2007. Although Passerini said that he remains open-minded about the potential of ODF, he noted that P&G will continue to use Office’s default formats for now.

“If in two, three, five years, there is a significant opportunity to do something different, we’ll see when the time comes,” Passerini said. “But we don’t have a strategy or firm plan in this area yet.”

Pie Charts

P&G, like all companies, will ultimately have to make a decision about XML document formats. XML is the default format in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for the first time in the recently released version of Microsoft Office. Older Office versions can also be adapted to open and save files in Office 2007’s XML format through free add-on software known as a Compatibility Pack.

But XML is only part

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