Microsoft 'must support OpenDocument'

Microsoft 'must support OpenDocument'

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

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TOPICS: Apps
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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."

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  • Mr. Taylor, do you actually know how many customers MS have? Hundreds of millions, that's right. Suddenly 120,000 requests per month doesn't seem so improbable. Of course, OSX has a native 'save as PDF' capability too. When will OpenOffice listen to customers and implement that, or is it content to be the also-ran?

    By the way, ODF doesn't properly support spreadsheet formulas at present, instead falling back to plain strings. When challenged on this, ODF propoents replay that they're busy trying to copy the way Excel does it. Yeah, that's innovative.
    anonymous
  • OpenOffice does have an export as PDF function. I use it daily.
    anonymous
  • What's the population of Massachusetts? Isn't it more than 120,000 people? Hey Bill, do the math, mate.
    anonymous
  • There is a very good text about it here:

    http://www.dwheeler.com/essays/why-opendocument-won.html
    anonymous
  • Yet another prediction of Microsoft's defeat. Wasn't Netscape the death of MS? And the Web? And Linux? And Mac OS X, perenially? And Google? And the thin client, also perenially?

    What MS does best is to create things that customers will buy. If it's more profitable to support ODF, they will. If not, not.

    More likely, a third party will build a plug-in ODF, just as Acrobat has been the third-party solution for PDF.

    The problem is, in its search for a philosophical purity, Massachusetts has chosen a road that no for-profit enterprise would. Which is, to limit their users' choices (and productivity) for the sake of "principle".

    Perhaps they need to look at their vehicle fleets and office buildings, and remove any proprietary technology out of those?
    anonymous
  • Does anybody know what the licensing terms are for writing a MS Office plugin? It seems to me that if a big enough organization wanted OpenDocument support for MS Office, they could write it themselves and release it under a closed-source, free-as-in-beer license. Am I wrong?
    anonymous
  • The logic is inescapable: OpenOffice can happily read MS Office documents, and save documents in MS Office format, but MS Office cannot read OpenOffice documents. So anyone in an environment containing documents in both formats needs only OpenOffice, but cannot get by with only MS Office. Sooner or later this will force Microsoft to provide Open Document support, purely for reasons of self-interest (and self-preservation).
    anonymous
  • Quote:
    "The problem is, in its search for a philosophical purity, Massachusetts has chosen a road that no for-profit enterprise would. Which is, to limit their users' choices (and productivity) for the sake of "principle"."

    You just don't get it. Open Document Format is the best technological solution. It is not a philosophical decision. Have you read the documents stating why they chose it? It is a well researched, well reasoned argument that makes perfect sense (and allowed broad public comment) and has nothing to do with "principle" and everything to do with pragmatism.

    I have never seen as much zealotry over an IT issue as this one, and all the zealots are on the proprietry side and claim to be speaking from reason.

    Get over your prejudice and "get the facts" (to quote a well known campaign) before you carry on like this.
    anonymous
  • "The problem is, in its search for a philosophical purity, Massachusetts has chosen a road that no for-profit enterprise would. Which is, to limit their users' choices (and productivity) for the sake of "principle"."

    The funniest part of this is that he says going Open-Doc will limit the choices available to users. In actual fact it will have the exact opposite effect, users will have a choice for the first time.
    anonymous
  • What a biased load of crap. Open office is shit. It eats memory and is incredibly slow. Its free, and people still don't use it even though (most of the time) is can handle MS office formats. Its been around for ages and there has been not takeup. The only way you would get me to use it is hold a gun agaist my head. On Linux the KDE apps are much better. They run at a speed of something comparable to office at least.

    The Massachusetts case is interesting. Would be laughable if their effort is anyting like Munich, which has been repeatedly dealyed to the point where they are fudging it by using Linux on VMware on Windows with open office. Its a mess, and they have spent the last 2 years writing deveice drivers of all things, for all their out of date hardware.

    Right now, my money is on the government of Massachusetts been made a fool of. In the end its clearly going to cost them so much money in a badly managed change over. We know how good governments are at these kinds of projects. Its why all the "big words" are so laughable from these people in your article.

    ZDNet normally reports decent news, but I just had to laugh at some of the quotes from that open souce guy. He just stopped short of saying Bill Gates was Satan.
    anonymous
  • What a biased load of crap. Open office is shit. It eats memory and is incredibly slow. Its free, and people still don't use it even though (most of the time) is can handle MS office formats. Its been around for ages and there has been not takeup. The only way you would get me to use it is hold a gun agaist my head. On Linux the KDE apps are much better. They run at a speed of something comparable to office at least.

    The Massachusetts case is interesting. Would be laughable if their effort is anyting like Munich, which has been repeatedly dealyed to the point where they are fudging it by using Linux on VMware on Windows with open office. Its a mess, and they have spent the last 2 years writing deveice drivers of all things, for all their out of date hardware.

    Right now, my money is on the government of Massachusetts been made a fool of. In the end its clearly going to cost them so much money in a badly managed change over. We know how good governments are at these kinds of projects. Its why all the "big words" are so laughable from these people in your article.

    ZDNet normally reports decent news, but I just had to laugh at some of the quotes from that open souce guy. He just stopped short of saying Bill Gates was Satan.
    anonymous
  • Can you imagine any other industry where if someone chooses to not buy the product of one particular vendor it seems that the world will end? Should I not choose a Ford Car do I expect lots of people to come out telling me how I'm going to die in a road crash before too long?


    What's most laughable is the people who equate "Microsoft, or Microsoft" as having choice and "As long as it implements OpenDoc" as no choice. At least two commercial entities have announced support - Sun and WordPerfect. Such attachment to Microsoft is something I just don't understand.

    In the development world I'm moving from Eclipse which is free and starting to use Visual Studio which is expensive, buggy and lacks so many usability features of Eclipse - yet people insist that it's better! All I can think is the fear of change moving all those VB developers to Java, yet the conceptual leaps to move to Dot-Net are huge enough anyway.

    Perhaps you've invested so much effort learning how to work around and become comfortable with your computer's shortfalls you are afraid of change to something else. It takes time to learn an office suite or a development environment. Perhaps this fear of change and having to relearn is the problem.
    anonymous
  • Doesn't anyone else see the problem with MS including support for OpenDocument? They'll "extend" it has they have every other open format so on paper they'll support it but interoperability will be impossible.

    It would be better if MS didn't come anywhere near OpenDocument...
    anonymous
  • Microsoft is gambling that they can break a troublesome customer. I think they will find that many goverment agencies and corporations will demand native ODF support. Will Microsoft write off the EU, China or major corps? I think not but this is really about owning your own data. If your data is not in an open format how do you know you can access it in five years or the next time your vendor changes their data format? There are warehouses of tapes which can not be easily restored today, time to move toward the future.
    anonymous
  • ODF is _not_ "quite new", it is based on StarOffice's/OpenOffice's XML format that is about 5 years old. Yes, it has been extended and enhanced. That's all part of the standardization process. It has to work for everyone. External links:

    Wikipedia on OpenDocument:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Document

    See Wheeler's essay on the MA vs. MSFT issue at:
    http://www.dwheeler.com/essays/why-opendocument-won.html
    anonymous
  • > Doesn't anyone else see the problem with MS including support for OpenDocument? They'll "extend" it has they have every other open format so on paper they'll support it but interoperability will be impossible.

    To solve this problem, people in the tech community would have to be vigilant about inspecting any OpenDocument format that Microsoft winds up supporting, seeing if there are any extensions or inconsistent standards support, and, if there are, publicly declaring that the format Microsoft is supporting is not in fact OpenDocument at all.

    This inspection would have to be done for every modified version of every release of Office (i.e. there could be a patch or an update for Office or Windows that might sneakily alter the support for OpenDocument). In other words, constant vigilance would be required.

    Or better yet, just don't use MS Office for working with the OpenDocument format. It'd be too much like sticking your foot in an open bear trap.
    anonymous
  • Re Matt: Netscape nearly did harm Microsoft. Even though Microsoft adapted, it is thanks to things like Netscape and open standards that Microsoft don't have as much of a stranglehold as they otherwise would.

    Imagine being stuck with buggy old Internet Explorer with no chance for competition and no reason for Microsoft to invest effort improving it.

    It is only thanks to competition that Microsoft are being forced to develop and improve IE, and without open standards there'll be no competition. It would be easy for Microsoft as competing is expensive, but terrible for the rest of us.

    I'd go as far as saying that NT5 was canned and Windows2000 saw heavy investment thanks to competition from Linux, Office sees investment thanks to competition from Open Office and Visual Studio sees development thanks to competition from Eclipse. Without this competition we'd be a lot worse off.

    This is why Open Standards are good, and why people like the EU are watching other areas such as media formats so closely.

    It is also why software patents are such a hot topic. We've seen massive innovation for the last few decades without them, but all the evidence I've seen shows that with competition reduced or removed that innovation will dry up if they become widely enforced. That would be a shame.
    anonymous
  • Why do you hate Microsoft Office so much? It's only you who want to be different that's causing too much trouble. With my Windows XP and the upcoming Vista plus some more hundred bucks, I am now with the majority of happy users under Microsoft's wing.

    Open Office reading Microsoft Office format easy? I don't think so! I've seen some of my misguided collegues wrestle their way to interpreting Power Point slides in that poor software!

    I think MIT SHOULD RECONSIDER the word format as it's de facto.
    anonymous
  • Ad hominem attacks are the hallmark of MS apologists, astroturfers, shills and other trouble makers. They often go like this:

    "why do you hate MS?"
    "you know nothing about business"
    "because of people like you ..."
    "{non-MS product} is shit"
    etc.

    There are many more variations, but they common theme in all is a personal attack and an attempt to steer the dialog into a debate of opinions rather than facts or just plain drag it down into other non-productive activities like mud sling and name calling.

    All I can say is great work Ingrid. The article and the quotes from Mark Taylor must have really hit a nerve in order to invoke such personal attacks from the MS camp.
    anonymous
  • > Doesn't anyone else see the problem with MS including support for OpenDocument? They'll "extend" it has they have every other open format so on paper they'll support it but interoperability will be impossible.

    Actually, as part of the licensing of OpenDocument, it expressly forbids extending the format outside of the normal channels.

    Any changes to the format would need to be approved by OASIS and would have to be presented to the OpenDocument steering committee to get through.

    Any attempt to extend the format in other ways would see the extendee required to stop using the OpenDocument name, since they would no longer be supporting the format. On top of this, while Sun has stated (legally) that they won't pursue anyone over Intellectual Property issues who uses the format the way it was intended, they have also stated that they will vigorously attack any group that tries to abuse the format.

    Any attempt by Microsoft to extend this format would see them in court. A case like this would be big news (remember, they'll only support the format because enough governments move to it that they need to) and Microsoft would be publicly embarrassed about trying to break what people would see favorably as a Good Thing(TM) - that is, an standardized format that lets them choose their software.
    anonymous