Novell: We'll help Microsoft develop ODF compatibility in Office, if they ask

Novell: We'll help Microsoft develop ODF compatibility in Office, if they ask

Summary: Yesterday, when Novell announced that one of the first fruits to be born out of its newly minted legal relationship with Microsoft would be a plug-in to that would allow the open source based office suite to open or save documents in Microsoft's Open Office XML (OO-XML) file format, I had a tough time parsing through the text of the company's press release.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Yesterday, when Novell announced that one of the first fruits to be born out of its newly minted legal relationship with Microsoft would be a plug-in to that would allow the open source based office suite to open or save documents in Microsoft's Open Office XML (OO-XML) file format, I had a tough time parsing through the text of the company's press release. Would the same functionality found in Novell's distribution of be available with no strings attached to the larger open source project? To get that and other questions answered, I checked in with Novell's director of marketing Justin Steinman and here's how the line of questioning went:

ZDNet: Novell will be introducing support for Microsoft's OO-XML file format into which is normally thought of as an open source-based competitor to Microsoft Office, isn't that correct?

Steinman: That is correct. You are seeing today the first fruits of the interoperability agreement between Novell and Microsoft that we signed on November 2nd.

ZDNet: You probably saw the petition by Bruce Perens not too long ago, that suggested, by virtue of the legal deal with Microsoft you just spoke of, Novell would be entering into some arrangements with Microsoft whereby some sort of odd mixture of proprietary and open source code could result: a mixture that wouldn't necessarily be available to all open source products and maybe just to Novell's products.  I was looking at the wording of your announcement and trying to better understand exactly what's going on here. Is there going to be some code that opens and closes and saves OO-XML in Is Novell going to develop that code and then contribute all of it [to the open source project] so that any user can use it the same way, whether it's Novell's version of or another one? 

Steinman: First off, regarding the Bruce Perens note, it's worth noting that we signed more than just a patent agreement with Microsoft. We signed a business and technical collaboration agreement with Microsoft, and the sum purpose of all of those agreements was to improve interoperability for the customer from the desktop to the data center. Today we announced new interoperability between OO-XML and What Novell is doing, is we are working with Microsoft to write a 100% -- let me stress that: a 100% -- open source piece of code. We are going to write that code and we are going to roll it into the Novell version of that ships as part of Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop and we are going to contribute 100% of that code back to the open source community for inclusion in the mainline project (if the community decides that they want to include it). But, let me be perfectly clear, this is pure GPL code, like everything else we do with the Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop. We're picking what we think is the best of open source that's most relevant to our customers, and distributing it. If the community wants to adopt this OO-XML translator, we would welcome it and applaud it.

ZDNet: Well, it seems rather odd: Microsoft and Novell enter into an arrangement that basically paves the way for you to include this interoperability into without a threat of Microsoft suing Novell. And if you think about it,  if can bring this into its official code base, that will make a legitimate competitor, maybe even more so than it used to be, to Microsoft Office. Why would Microsoft want this?

Steinman: Because Microsoft is doing what's in the best interest of its customers. They heard loud and clear from their customers that they were tired of software not working together. And Microsoft to their credit has been very realistic and pragmatic. And they realize that, whether they like it or not, Linux is here to stay. And they better figure out a way to work with Linux.

ZDNet: Is there going to be some sort of reciprocal support for the OpenDocument Format in Microsoft Office that you're going to help them install? Because right now Microsoft is at best supportive of ODF. I've written about that before. Earlier this year they came out with an announcement that appeared to many to be support for ODF. But technically speaking, they were just applying some resources to make certain ODF translators available. But Microsoft isn't supporting them the way, if you called Microsoft and asked for technical support for Office, you'll get it. So, do you know of any plans to incorporate ODF support into Microsoft Office? Is Novell going to help Microsoft with those plans?

Steinman: You're going to have to ask Microsoft for any information about their product road map. I'm not a Microsoft employee. So I can't comment on what direction their products are going to take. If Microsoft decided that they did want to include support for ODF inside Microsoft Office, we would of course help them with that coding, because that's again in our best interest.

ZDNet: Amongst your customers, is ODF getting any traction? Because it was just recently ratified by the International Organisation of Standardization as an official standard and it's sort of ahead of Microsoft's OO-XML in the quote-unquote "standards race." 

Steinman: We've got a lot of excitement from customers when it comes to ODF. We are seeing Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop getting deployed in divisions and departments of organizations. We've got pilots up to 500 seats running Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop, and with that they are using for their office productivity suite. And, what's the default format there? ODF.

ZDNet: If that's the case, isn't it only a matter of time before Microsoft would have to support ODF in its products and perhaps even drop the price of Microsoft office to be at least somewhat more in line with or Suse Linux Desktop Linux which includes OpenOffice.rog (as well as maybe Corel's Wordperfect Office)? Didn't Corel just come out and say they would support both formats?

Steinman: I'm not familiar [with the Corel announcement]. It doesn't ring a bell with me.

That's where the interview ended. Between Corel announcing support for ODF (apparently, not yet the presentation and spreadsheet part of ODF, according to Andy Updegrove) and Novell introducing OO-XML/ODF bi-directionality into, the pressure is clearly on Microsoft to offer both the same degree of bi-directionality in Office as well as a lower cost version of Office. I just don't see how the current cost of Microsoft Office is sustainable given the new parity point that seems to be emerging in the productivity area, especially given the whole crop of free Web-based offerings that are flooding the market.

Topic: Microsoft

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I can just here the guys at MS. Why yes, well, um, uh, uh, well sure, well,

    we don't know if our customers will um, well, um uh, well, not sure if it is worth it. Oh, you say you will do it, so we, well, would not have to. Ummm, we need to check with customers, you see, not sure how we will, um, uh, support it, uh, we will have to think about this, um, um, uh, uh, . . . . .
  • hate novell

    i hate novell, they are the crappy filter my school uses to block my favorite websites
  • ODF

    I think some people are a little to hard on Novell. It's a trust issue and one that involves MS. However, "Someone" had to strike some kind of deal with MS. I also think it's true that MS understands Linux is here to stay. I also think MS understands that Linux and or open source isn't going to, or is out to kill MS.

    This is about users exchanging documents and files. What users use to create, exchange, and publish is a choice they or their IT department made. I'm sure MS will support ODF and ferther more it's not that big of a deal for Novell to support OO-XML.

    So far, I don't see Novell shooting it's self in the foot over this deal.
  • In this knife fight...

    ... between combatants with opposite corners of a handkerchief clenched between their teeth, one key is to be able to forge a connection between Microsoft products and open source that does not allow confiscation of Microsoft's proprietary software.

    Microsoft knows that desktop Linux has failed and that Office continues so predominant that the packaged software could be more expensive without an impact on market share.

    But because some developers want an open format to work with, Microsoft has to respond to attitudes and permit them to be comfortable assuring that no functionality is developed for open source which cannot be run better on Office itself.
    Using the Microsoft format is another guarantee of Office's predominance.

    The contest is not about the movement of open source into Microsoft's market; thanks to the lack of resources inherent in open source efforts, that minor skirmish was won long ago.

    No, this is about how Microsoft can absorb open source, including Linux, in previously hostile environments in which Linux and other open source projects have been used to replace Unix and thus reduce emplyment and salaries.

    The two main things Microsoft needs are acceptance and the ability to work with open source without damaging rights to the company's own code.

    The strategy will have to be more complex than simple confrontation. While that's devastating to Microsoft's opposition in Microsoft's markets, the attitudes in other markets have to be alleviated.

    The only essential thing the matter with open source is the lack of interest in profit. But that's enough a weakness to decide the competition.
    Anton Philidor
  • bald-faced LIE.

    "this is pure GPL code, like everything else we do with the Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop."

    No, the 'Enterprise' version includes proprietary drivers and other non-GPL code. This was a lie. So I can't trust his other claims, either.
    Rick S._z
    • Don't play words

      Steinman said "like everything else we do with the SLED". It doesn't mean Novell is writing and including proprietary code. What Novell does is pure GPL and proprietary software comes from other vendors that do it anyway for other distros.

      I believe you hate Novell and that's why you play the game.