Rivals welcome Microsoft's change of heart on ODF, PDF

Say adding support for file formats to Office will benefit users — and maybe Microsoft itself

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Microsoft has routinely been hammered by other vendors and by government regulators — and fined repeatedly by the European Commission — for not supporting interoperability between its software and rival products. But the plan to support ODF and PDF within Office is one of several moves that the company has made recently to try to assuage its critics.

In February, for example, Microsoft publicly released more than 30,000 pages of documentation for its Windows protocols and APIs — information that previously was made available only via licensing deals. Microsoft said at the time that the documentation was being made openly available as part of its adoption of four new "interoperability principles."

In an interview on Wednesday, Gray Knowlton, an Office group product manager at Microsoft, said that a combination of "regulatory feedback" and the internal embrace of increased interoperability led the company to change its mind about supporting ODF and PDF. "It came as a surprise to some people," Knowlton said of yesterday's announcement. "But when we outlined the interoperability principles a while ago, those commitments were pretty real."

In the past, Microsoft heard from Office users that supporting plug-in translators for ODF was good enough, Knowlton said. But now, he added, "we've gotten that direction that people want ODF in the product. To help our business, we're happy to do that."

Whether the new support will fully mollify European regulators remains to be seen, though. The EC today issued a statement saying that it welcomes any steps by Microsoft toward "genuine interoperability" but that it plans to investigate whether the support for ODF actually results in improved interoperability between Office and other desktop applications.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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