The normal deal with conferences is that most of the interesting stuff happens away from the main keynotes. Red Hat's annual user conference is no different. Today I was lucky enough to drop into a session titled, The OOXML battle: Who really won?
A couple of surprise followed. The first one was that Red Hat managed to convince a Microsoft spokesperson to step foot in its conference which is definitely enemy territory. Even if Microsoft has softened its stance towards open source, there are plenty of attendees at the show who most definitely have softened when it comes to their antipathy towards Redmond and everything it stands for.
The second and even more surprising event was that the Microsoft spokesperson in question, Microsoft national technology officer Stuart McKee, actually admitted that ODF had won out over OOXML or words to that effect.
"I have been involved in this battle, and it has been a battle for quite some time," he said. "ODF clearly won. You mentioned Microsoft implementing ODF and we made a commitment through translators to support ODF, but we have a ship cycle and our ability to implement ODF in the middle of our ship cycle was not possible and the idea of implementing it to a level where our customers could open and use a document easily – we couldn't do that in the middle of shipping Office 2007."
"I think ODF is a winner – being a Microsoft product – whether people like it or not, there are hundreds of millions of users of that product and if you are there then you are clearly going to get some more visibility."
There is a lot more from this session that I need to digest – not least the accusation from the floor that Microsoft is simply pursuing its normal strategy when it comes to a product or company it opposes – namely, embrace, extend and extinguish? The questioner asked McKee to justify why Microsoft's apparent climb-down over ODF wasn't simply the embrace stage at play.
McKee danced around the issue to some degree, as might be expected, but eventually said this:
"The important thing to remember about Microsoft, and I am not looking for an apology or to make excuses, 30 years ago when Microsoft came onto the scene, people said to Bill and Paul, 'You are out of your mind for trying to sell software – there is no market for software'. The market today is based to some degree on that decision – although there are lots more companies involved now."
"Embrace and extent, markets change and they shift. Are we in the process of Microsoft embracing? There are over a dozen formats natively supported in Office today -- there is going to be dozen plus one shortly because ODF is now part of that. RTF, Txt, PDF, - why isn't Adobe here?. If our intention was to extinguish it would take years and years and years. I can tell you that ODF is going to work as well as Ooxml – it will change and evolve. I think one of the biggest questions is will those two formats unify – I don't know. Extinguish I don't think is going to happen – we don't control it."
So does that mean if Microsoft did control ODF then it would extinguish it? There are a lot more interesting points raised in this session which I will try and pull out into a more lengthy article in the next few days.