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Lotusphere: Whoops! IBM products support Microsoft's Open XML doc format

All that money IBM has spent to defeat the proposal, and yet ...

By Eric Lai
January 20, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Nobody has invested more in defeating Microsoft Corp.'s Office Open XML document format than IBM.

So why is IBM supporting Open XML in a handful of its products?

According to technical documentation on IBM's own Web sites, the company already supports Open XML, the native file format of Microsoft Office 2007, in at least four of its programs.

However, Office users interested in testing or switching to Lotus Symphony, IBM's upcoming challenger to Office, may be disheartened by signs that IBM won't budge from its stance that it will support only documents created in Office 2003 and prior versions.

Doug Mahugh, a Microsoft technical evangelist for Open XML, first blogged about IBM's support of Open XML on Friday, and other Microsoft bloggers also have joined in.

The software products that support Open XML include IBM's Lotus Quickr collaboration platform, Websphere Portal for z/OS mainframes,  DB2 Content Manager v8.4 and  DB2 9 pureXML database.

Apart from DB2 9 pureXML, which can "consume and repurpose" Open XML files, the support that the IBM software offers is generally limited being able to import data from Open XML files, the native file format of Microsoft Office 2007.

IBM did not return a request for comment. The company is holding its annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando from Sunday to Wednesday.

But Rob Weir, an IBM developer who often comments on document format issues, wrote in his blog that IBM's support for Open XML is pro forma, generic and hardly representative of a trend. Microsoft's "desperation in trying to dredge up examples of support" for Open XML is "pitiful," he contended.

"Does pureXML support OOXML? It sure does!!! In fact, it supports any well-formed XML document or fragment -- OOXML, ODF, BerniesOldTimeMedicineShowAndJamboreeML, whatever you have," Weir wrote. Later in the posting, he added: "So welcome, OOXML, to the exclusive company of 'Every Document Format Known to Man.' I'm glad that you are so excited."

Even so, considering the vigor with which IBM is opposing Open XML as part of its ambitions to take down Microsoft's dominance in the desktop applications market, any support for Open XML by IBM is a bit of a surprise.

For the past several years, the company has lobbied politicians within the U.S. and internationally to create laws favoring the use of software that is either open-source or complies with international open standards, such as the OpenDocument Format (ODF) for Office Applications used natively by Lotus Symphony.

IBM has also fought against Open XML's ratification by the ISO, with its employees and executives among the most prominent bloggers decrying the would-be standard.

"I think there are many reasons why Microsoft's XML specification for its own Office products, OOXML, will ultimately fail in the marketplace," wrote IBM vice president of standards Bob Sutor in a blog entry last March entitled "Why OOXML will ultimately fail." "Many people, including myself, have described how it is monstrously large, not particularly good XML and so not amenable to easy processing by standard XML tools, essentially a dump of Microsoft's own product requirements and mistakes, and will, in the end, be fully implemented by Microsoft alone."

Other companies with products that compete heavily with Microsoft Office are also implementing support for Open XML. They include Google Inc. (Google Apps), Apple Inc. (iWork) and Novell Inc. (OpenOffice.org ).

(Editor's note: this story was updated at about 2 p.m. EST on Jan. 22 to add the blog comments of IBM's Rob Weir.)

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