Microsoft's announcement of an OOXML plug-in for Firefox is one of those intriguing moments when a tiny piece of the future sprouts through the winter soil.
The plug-in wasn't written by Microsoft — it provided 'architectural guidance, technical support and project management', according to the project page — but by a Bangalore company called MindTree. Yet as the code is released on Microsoft's CodePlex pages under the GPL 3.0-compatible Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL), it's as good a piece of official Microsoft open source as you'll find.
Perhaps the least charitable interpretation of this move is that it provides, effectively for the first time, a decent OOXML viewer (one hopes — it's still incomplete, with things such as pagination missing) that removes the need for non-Microsoft Office users to install OpenOffice to read documents using that format. But competition is no bad thing, right?
More significantly, this is another step on Microsoft's slow evolution from its old mindset, which would have demanded that only IE would have this official capability. Instead, Microsoft is saying that, yes, we know Firefox is important and it does things that we don't do — and that's fine.
You can see this as a move towards capitulation to the new model, where client code is just not as important a strategic base as what's going on in the cloud — and, perhaps, a sign that on the desktop, Microsoft is coming to the same conclusion as it has apparently reached on the mobile platform. Why spend all that money developing expensive browsers, when someone else will do it for you and deliver the punters to your services free of charge?
Whether this move speeds the adoption of OOXML is neither here nor there; like the browser wars themselves, that battle is likely to lose its significance as the IT environment changes in ways that promise to be speedy, unpredictable and exciting. The things that will be fought for — interoperability, the retention of control over your own data, the freedom to make choices based on what's good for you and your enterprise — may not have changed, but this plug-in is a powerful reminder to focus on where the war is going, not on where it has been.