The other Microsoft ballot screen: Coming to an Office 2010 SKU near you (in Europe)

While Microsoft's browser-ballot screen has been in the news for the past several months, it's not the only one the company is adding to its products. As Neowin.net noted this week, there's also an Office 2010 ballot screen that has been showing up in the Release Candidate (RC) version of Office 2010 in Europe.

While Microsoft's browser-ballot screen has been in the news for the past several months, it's not the only one the company is adding to its products.

As Neowin.net noted this week, there's also an Office 2010 ballot screen that has been showing up in the Release Candidate (RC) version of Office 2010 in Europe. That ballot screen includes only two options, both about document formats.

The Office 2010 document-format ballot screen (a photo of which is on the NeoWin site) asks users which document format they'd like to make the default for Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The choices are Microsoft's Office Open XML and the rival OpenDocument formats. "Microsoft Office supports many different file formats," according to the splash screen. Users may select OOXML or ODF universally or select a different file format for each application.

As Neowin noted, the new screen was not part of the beta versions of Office 2010. The first time it showed up was in the RC, which is only going to a subset of testers. It also only is going to European testers only, like the browser-ballot screen.

Microsoft agreed last summer to provide the Office screen as part of the Microsoft "Interoperability Undetaking" -- a set of actions Microsoft agreed to do in order to head off further antitrust actions and investigations by the European Commission. Microsoft Office 2010 will implement the ISO/IEC compliant version of Office Open XML (OOXML), company officials have said, and will also provide the option of implementing (via the ballot screen) the ISO/IEC-compliant version of OpenDoc 1.1.

"This prompt (ballot) will only appears in European SKUs of Microsoft Office 2010," a Microsoft spokesperson said in response to my questions earlier today about the screen.

I asked whether this screen was set in stone, or would still change before the final version of Office 2010 is released in June. The spokesperson replied: "We believe the prompt as shown serves its intended purpose, which is to provide users with an informed choice of which format to use as their default in Microsoft Word 2010, Microsoft Excel 2010, and Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. We currently don’t have any plans to change it."

I asked one Office 2010 tester in Europe about his impressions of the Office document format screen. While this tester didn't recall seeing it when he installed the RC version, he said he though Microsoft should have included other formats in its check list.

"My personal view would be that ballot screens are not helpful (i.e. that the Windows 7 browser ballot is a waste of time and EU taxpayers' money!)," said Mark Wilson, a solution architect with a leading global systems integrator. "For many organisations the issue is more about compatibility between legacy document formats (e.g. the old .DOC) and the newer OOXML files (e.g. .DOCX) than it is with distractions from competing formats."

I agree with WIlson. If Microsoft really does "support many different formats" with Office, why not make all of the available formats a choice on this ballot screen? Anyone think the inclusion of this new screen will do anything -- positively or negatively -- for customer choice within Office 2010?

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