Microsoft shuffles toward ODF (and tinfoil fez)

How very dare you! This is IT Blogwatch, in which Microsoft gives in (a little) to Open Document Format support. Not to mention how to repel electromagnetic psychotronic mind control carriers with a fez...

Microsoft to back Office-to-ODF plug-in, reports Eric Lai:

In a tacit acknowledgment of the OpenDocument Format's (ODF) increased momentum, Microsoft Corp. announced today that it will back an open-source project to create software allowing Microsoft Office users to open and save files in ODF. The project, to be hosted on, will be led by three independent software vendors funded by Microsoft and is open to all developers ... The goal is a free plug-in that allows users to natively save files in ODF within Office, as well as convert files in Office 2007's OpenXML format to ODF and back. The Word plug-in is expected by December, with similar plug-ins for Excel and PowerPoint expected in 2007 ... Until now, Microsoft has publicly declined to make OpenXML compatible with ODF, saying any such move would stifle its own innovation. But ... the company had been discussing that option with government customers for months. Besides bankrolling the project, Microsoft will provide only technical assistance.

Robert Mitchell notes the Redmond sidestep:

Microsoft is in fact very good at innovating in its marketing tactics - and reacting quickly. Today's announcement ... is a prime example of the company's adaptability. The Computerworld story, Analysts: OpenDocument skirmish ends in truce, shows Microsoft's willingness to provide a bridge to ODF while allowing it to continue to provide innovative features within the confines of its own OpenXML format ... I think Microsoft's timing was right ... the outcome was not always clear. Once it became a certainty that OpenXML could not blunt OpenDocs' momentum, Microsoft adapted. This was not a reactive move but a sign that the company knows how to play its competitive cards well.
Kurt Cagle likes the look of the writing on the wall:

Some very interesting ice thawing out there ... While this may be simply a tacit recognition of the writing on the wall, I find it fascinating nonetheless that this is being done 1) as a source-forge project, 2) with both funding and apparent blessing from Microsoft, and 3) that it seems to be a very real effort to reach out to the OSS community in a meaningful way on a technology that could be seen as directly competitive. Watch that space closely - I sense that there are shifts and strains going on at the intermediate management level within Microsoft that may prove to be critical for the evolution of the company in the next several years, and this quiet little project may be simply the vanguard of this approach.
But Pamela Jones isn't fooled:

What need is this filling? I'd say Microsoft's need to stay in the game. Can there be any other reason to duplicate work that has already been done? I'm not sure why Microsoft is announcing an "Open Source" project, though. What do they need that for? ...  I see the same strategy that we saw in the Adobe PDF dispute ... Here's the choice it is trying to posit: You will have to download their ODF translator yourself and install it. Or, just stick with Microsoft's one-stop competing solution that is built in to their software offering. Considering Microsoft's monopoly position, and my mom's and most governments' typical technical skills, guess what Microsoft hopes moms and governments will choose? I see a plan in not building the ODF translator into Microsoft's software. So truly clever. It looks open. But it's marginalizing ODF ... you might consider choosing a solution that doesn't come from a company that talks out of both sides of its mouth.
Mary Jo's perspective:

Microsoft hasn't thrown in the towel, re: its plans for OpenDocument Format (ODF) support. Nor has it done a 180-turnaround. By giving its backing to an open-source effort to create an Office-to-ODF translator, Microsoft is simply doing what it needs to do to stay on the right side of government procurement policies. When Microsoft officials assert that it's not user demand that drove Microsoft's decision to give its blessing to the OpenXML Translator Project, we actually do believe them.
Jupiter's Joe Wilcox:

I've been fairly critical of ... Office Open XML (It's not "open" and it's XML-based). That said, today's announcement about Open Document Format (ODF) support is a step in the right direction ... But I scratch my head and wonder: Why doesn't Microsoft just more directly work with the OASIS group with respect to reducing the technical issues? For that matter, if Microsoft truly wants to be "open," why not work with others to establish a truly interoperable set of productivity suite formats. If Office is as superior to other products as Microsoft contends, the file format shouldn't matter ... while Microsoft's approach could be better, I wouldn't call it bad, either. Microsoft will offer ODF converters someday, with the help of third parties. I suppose Microsoft could have done all the work itself, but that would be an unlikely occurrence. The company simply doesn't have enough incentive, and someone would accuse Microsoft of trying to co-opt the ODF standard. Microsoft's past track record makes such an accusation reasonable.
Redmonk's Stephen O'Grady does Q&A:

Is this not begging for conspiracy theories? It's possible, but I think Microsoft's decision to make the project open source and host it externally at Sourceforge ... will calm some of those fears.

Why would Microsoft not handle this work itself? they're simply outsourcing what they believe to be a non-strategic feature to third parties - hardly an unheard of activity in this industry. On the other hand, they clearly felt it was important enough to fund ... Microsoft wants to propagate its competing format ... [but] they do not want to lose access to certain public sector markets.

Why does Microsoft not just include this in the shipping version of Office? Having been compelled to create the infrastructure within Office to simplify the downloading of PDF componentry ... the ODF bits were a natural fit here ... Microsoft is probably not terribly enthused about the format and wants to include at least one barrier to entry between its customers and ODF.

What's the catch? Expecting users to remember to manually select "Save As ODF" each time they need to create an ODF document - which in enterprises that mandate ODF will be every time - is not realistic ... support within Office will be biased towards Microsoft's own format.

Buffer overflow:

    Around the Net

    Around Computerworld

And finally... a fez for fashion-conscious nutjobs

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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