OOXML backwards compatibility led Microsoft to ODF

OOXML backwards compatibility led Microsoft to ODF

Summary: Microsoft blames backwards compatibility issues and changes made during the ISO ratification process for its decision to support ODF instead of OOXML in Office 2007


Microsoft's decision to add support to Office 2007 for the OpenDocument Format instead of its own OOXML office file format is due to backwards compatibility issues with OOXML, it has emerged.

Microsoft announced on Wednesday it will support ODF version 1.1 in the release of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2), scheduled for the first half of 2009. The company will also support PDF and XPS in Office 2007 SP2. OOXML is partially supported in the current version of Microsoft's office productivity suite and, according to Microsoft's announcement, will not be fully supported in Office until the release of "Office 14", which as yet has no confirmed release date.

In Microsoft's announcement, the company said it was adding native support for ODF due to increasing pressure from customers "and because we want to get involved in the maintenance of ODF". The company now says OOXML support would require substantially more work.

Microsoft pushed OOXML through as a fast-track International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard, and OOXML became IS29500 in April. However, Microsoft on Thursday told ZDNet.co.uk that the changes OOXML had gone through in the ISO ratification process had made it more difficult to support OOXML than ODF in Office 2007.

"We already substantially support IS29500 [the Open XML specification that was recently approved by ISO/IEC members] in Office 2007 and we've announced our plans to update that support in the next version of Office, code-named Office 14," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "The ISO/IEC standardisation process resulted in a number of changes to the Open XML specification. While developing our support for ODF requires a substantial amount of work, changes to existing file formats are often more complex than developing new code and therefore more difficult to implement due to backwards compatibility considerations."

Microsoft's director of standards, Jason Matusow, said Microsoft deciding to support ODF was not about one format beating another.

"This is not about any one document format 'winning' — it is about enabling customers to evaluate and use document formats that make the most sense for them," wrote Matusow in a blog post. "It is that we want our customers to have the most positive experience possible when using our product."

Matusow added that Microsoft will continue to participate in Open XML, ODF, PDF and XPS working groups. "I know that the sceptics are going to spin theories about MS participation in these groups — but the reality is that we want the specs to continue to improve over time and facilitate interop[erability]," wrote Matusow.

One organisation that has been sceptical about Microsoft's interoperability moves in the past has been the European Commission. Following controversy over Microsoft's conduct in pushing through OOXML as an ISO document standard, the Commission announced that it would probe OOXML as part of its ongoing antitrust investigation.

On Thursday the Commission said it had "taken note" of Microsoft's ODF announcement, and said it would investigate whether the move will improve interoperability.

"The Commission would welcome any step that Microsoft took towards genuine interoperability, more consumer choice and less vendor lock-in," the Commission said in a statement. "In its ongoing antitrust investigation concerning interoperability with Microsoft, the Commission will investigate whether the announced support of ODF in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice."

Some members of the open-source community were also sceptical about Microsoft's motives. Mark Taylor, founder of the Open Source Consortium, said Microsoft had "no choice" but to support ODF. He pointed to Becta, the UK government's advisor on IT in education, this year advising schools...

Topic: Apps

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Interesting Turn of Events

    Looks like Microsoft has realised that a poorly written standard is complex if not impossible to use so are now trying to backtrack and use ODF instead. After spending all that time and effort pushing OOXML through the standards selection process they have obviously sat down and realised that not only can no one else implement OOXML but they can't either. Hopefully they will start to play the game and concentrate on making ODF a better standard rather than trying to mess everything up by producing their own train crash of a standard.
  • Egg of their faces!

    Vintage Microsoft, pushing through their own standard because the existing (ODF) was inadequate and customers supposedly wanted choice, now they realise they want to be involved in ODF, why waste resources on OOXML in the first place?

    "This is not about any one document format 'winning'
  • A promise for the future...

    Ah well, better than nothing (maybe). Should this "act of goodwill" mitigate what's going on now? Becta, the EC rulings etc. I rather think not. If Microsoft "play nice" in the future that's where their rewards should lie, not in the present.
  • Possible reasons

    1. They can state that they will implement ODF and in the meantime will push OOXML (even current version). "You said that you would implement ODF where is it?" - "yeah, we have work-in-progress" - "but when?" - "soon, use ooxml for a while", "you're implementation is incorrect!" - "we'll fix it very soon - use ooxml for a while".

    2. There are a lot of people who 're worried about format monopoly and backward compatibility issues. May be MS just realized that they can get the client who want ODF to buy MSO for it. Or some big corporates (may be governmental) of MS wanted ODF. It's better to support ODF and sell MSO+Vista than to look at that OOo+Linux migration. And that doesn't mean that MS is going to stop pushing OOXML.
  • OOXML is partially supported in the current version of Microsoft's office .

    The standard that isn't. Typical of M$, changing horses in midstream.
  • Oh please...

    Almost everything about this comment bothers me, so I'll deal with it piece by piece:

    "poorly written standard"

    Says who? Possibly a MINORITY of the standards approval body, since the standard was approved by the MAJORITY.

    "complex if not impossible to use so are now trying to backtrack and use ODF instead"

    If you call backtracking implementing both standards, but on a different timetable. They already substantially support the standard through their current version. I totally understand not wanting to revisit and retrofit the current code as that would likely introduce bugs. The handling of rolling the standard into the product is no different from the late 90's when many companies were implementing versions of web technologies in advance of them being approved for inclusion in the HTML standard.

    "they have obviously sat down and realised that not only can no one else implement OOXML"

    You are insulting a lot of smart people to say that NO ONE else can implement it. Given that the OOXML standard is probably 5 times the size of the ODF standard (since it includes standards for spreadsheet formulas and all kinds of other things that ODF doesn't), it may be justifiable to say that no one else could afford to implement it, but I've seen the open source community do some pretty amazing things. Not to mention the fact that several companies have already implemented the standard.

    "they can't either"

    Huh? They already said they're going to implement it in Office 14. Yes, I realize that saying and doing are two different things, but they have already substantially supported the standard through the pre-standardization version in the current version of Office.

    "Hopefully they will start to play the game and concentrate on making ODF a better standard"

    For what purpose, since it is obvious the only way to extend ODF to support the full range of Office features would be to throw it out and write a new, more comprehensive standard? Oh wait, they did...

    "trying to mess everything up"

    So somehow you look at the implementation of a new standard as somehow personally injurious or detrimental to some pet project (maybe the ODF standard)? I think you are ascribing way too much malice and ill intent to a company that has a hard time trying to get anything at all done, let alone go on some crusade to destroy some standard.

    "producing their own train crash of a standard"

    In your opinion. I don't have a great deal of love for Microsoft, but neither do I interpret their actions as ill will to their customers. That would require them to remember who their customers are - something they long ago forgot.
  • Too nieve

    You have an issue with the comment poorly written standard. I have to say that if you had tried to read this thing you soon see the problems. The whole thing has obviously been put together hastily and needs a lot of work to make it half readable. Even many of the supporters of OOXML have admitted that it is poorly written. Most of its complexity revolves around having to reinvent a lot of work already covered by other standards, this being the main reason why ODF is pretty light weight in comparison because it leverages other standards.
    Fully implementing OOXML will be a nightmare due to all the stuff like formatAsWord6 attributes, binary format stuff etc. It's true that OOXML is currently partially supported within current office versions but my main point is that there are still so many issues with the spec, that require changes, that neither Microsoft or any one else will want to do anything with it for some time until the spec becomes more stable. This I suspect is why Microsoft have delayed implementation until version 14. This is the problem with railroading the spec through the selection process with all the dodgy tactics employed in that. Microsoft seemed to loose the plot with this whole fast tracking thing and have ended up in a mess. I suppose this was to be expected, after all the only reason for OOXML was a marketing tactic and a fear of loosing market to standards based software.