Microsoft 'must support OpenDocument'

Summary:Microsoft will be forced to adopt the open file format or risk 'sliding into irrelevance', according to industry observers

Industry analysts and open source advocates believe that Microsoft will have no choice but to offer support for OpenDocument when more organisations start following the state of Massachusetts' lead.

Earlier this week, a Microsoft executive said that it was not supporting the open file format due to the absence of interest from customers. At the same time, the company said it was adding support the PDF to Office 12 after receiving "over 120,000 requests a month" from customers.

OpenDocument, which was approved by the standards body OASIS in May, has already been embraced by the commonwealth of Massachusetts and is being considered by governments in other countries and US states, according to IBM.

An OASIS spokeswoman said on Wednesday the public sector is making "great strides" in terms of user demand for OpenDocument.

Microsoft will be forced to offer support for OpenDocument if more organisations decide to use the file format, according to James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk.

"ODF [OpenDocument] is quite new, and it will take a while for demand to build. But I don't believe it will need 120,000 requests a month to change Microsoft's mind; just a few more high profile departures like Massachusetts," said Governor. "If Microsoft starts to lose customers because of a lack of ODF support they will offer a plug-in before you know it."

One of Microsoft Office's competitors, the open source productivity application OpenOffice.org, has already added support for the standard in its upcoming 2.0 release. John McCreesh, a marketing contact for OpenOffice.org, said that Microsoft's claim that there is no interest in OpenDocument is "curious".

"Possibly Microsoft is happy to lose the business of US States one after another, starting with Massachusetts, as they shut out Microsoft for failing to adopt the OpenDocument standard. Sounds like interest from customers to me," said McCreesh.

He claimed that Microsoft delaying support for OpenDocument is likely to drive people to migrate to OpenOffice.org.

Mark Taylor, the executive director of the Open Source Consortium, agreed that Microsoft's refusal to support OpenDocument is unlikely to be good for business, but was sceptical that Microsoft had received as many as 120,000 monthly requests for PDF.

"One has to question whether 120,000 people a month would contact Microsoft about anything," said Taylor. "Microsoft will either have to adopt open standards, or continue its slow slide into irrelevance."

Topics: Apps

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