Microsoft attacks IBM over ODF

Software giant's criticisms of IBM over its support for the OpenDocument Format have met with anger from the standard's supporters

Microsoft has severely criticised IBM, saying the company is pushing the OpenDocument Format standard to the detriment of Microsoft's own Open XML standard.

OpenDocument Format (ODF) is an open standard based on XML, designed to be used in office-application development. Microsoft has been involved in developing a rival open office standard, Open XML (OXML).

Although the main contributor to ODF is Sun, Microsoft has attacked IBM for its support of ODF.

Darren Strange, senior product manager for Microsoft Office 2007, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday: "The difference in view is that [IBM] are espousing 'one standard fits all', which is hard for us. IBM seems keen for ODF to be the only standard for everyone. The issue is about choice — there's room in the world for more than one open standard. And it's all XML — technically speaking, we speak the same language."

Microsoft had previously criticised IBM in an open letter in February for including ODF in Lotus Notes.

IBM had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing. However, the ODF Alliance, a global group of organisations seeking to promote and advance the use of ODF, hit back at Microsoft's claims. "ODF is a multi-vendor standard. It's not designed with one vendor in mind, unlike OXML," Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, told ZDNet UK. "ODF is designed for use in both proprietary software, like Lotus Notes, and open-source software, like OpenOffice, unlike OXML."

"OXML has one and only one implementation, and that's in Office 2007," Marcich continued. "The many different implementations of ODF mean governments and other consumers have choice, and are not tied to the upgrade path of one single vendor who already has 98 percent of the marketplace. The idea of a standard is to allow different companies to compete using that standard, not [to] put governments and organisations on the treadmill of a single vendor."

OpenOffice, the open-source office-application suite, and an alternative to Microsoft Office, is based on ODF. John McCreesh, marketing project lead, also responded to Microsoft's claims that IBM was interested in just one standard for everyone.

"That says it in a nutshell," McCreesh told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "The whole purpose of having a standard is everyone is involved. Although Microsoft was involved in Oasis [the body that developed ODF], it chose not to adopt the standard, as it saw the project as an academic exercise. What has surprised them is the number of European governments that have mandated ODF — it's caught Microsoft on the back foot. ODF is the international ISO standard — we would be delighted if Microsoft took part in improving that standard."

Strange signalled that some kind of reconciliation could be possible. "With ODF there are some things that I like — there's room for learning from each other."

However, Microsoft criticised ODF for not having backwards compatibility with Microsoft products. "ODF is not coming from the standpoint of preserving previous documents, which is a bit like saying there's no room for PDF if you have .doc," said Strange.

But the ODF Alliance's Marcich said that OXML itself is not compatible with some Microsoft products. "Even for Microsoft, there's no such thing as 100 percent backwards compatibility — it's not guaranteed in Office 2007," said Marcich. "So to say backwards compatibility is a weakness of ODF is somewhat odd."