Office to support ODF, PDF as 'first-class citizens'

Big news on the open document format front: Microsoft announced (press release) minutes ago (actually about 18 hours early, since someone broke PCWorld scooped their embargo) that Office SP2 will include native, "first-class citizen" support for the open source Open Document Format, as well as Adobe's PDF and the XML Paper Specification (XPS), as well as Redmond's own OpenXML. Service Pack 2 for Office will be released in the first half of 2009.

Big news on the open document format front: Microsoft announced (press release) minutes ago (actually about 18 hours early, since someone broke PCWorld scooped their embargo) that Office SP2 will include native, "first-class citizen" support for the open source Open Document Format, as well as Adobe's PDF and the XML Paper Specification (XPS), as well as Redmond's own OpenXML.

Service Pack 2 for Office will be released in the first half of 2009. This change – which stems from Microsoft's interoperability principles (announced in February, as a result of European Commission actions against the company) – means that governments (and everyone else) will be able to use Office to save directly in these formats – no add-on downloads, no converters.

In recent years – started by Massachusetts – governments have expressed serious concern about data portability and recoverability when public documents are being saved in vendor-proprietary formats. Microsoft has been positioning OpenXML as the standard-based format of choice (it is now an ISO standard after a contentious vote in which some countries' standards bodies accused Microsoft of ramming the election down the ISO's throat) but this announcement means users have equal choice of formats.

On a phone call yesterday, Doug Mahugh, senior product manager for Office, said Microsoft will also offer an API that will provide the hooks for developers to plug support for other formats right into Office. Microsoft will update support for the ISO-approved version of OpenXML in Office 14, the next version of Office.

That means that developers could plug in other implementations of ODF if an organization isn't happy about Microsoft's version of ODF. Mahugh said the team has struggled with how to handle differences between the spec and current implementations. "Is the most popular implementation the right thing or is what the spec says the right thing?"

Yet another seachange: Microsoft says it will work with all the different working groups, including the groups handling ODF and PDF. It will join the OASIS group working on the next version of ODF, as well as ISO/IEC working groups on OpenXML and interoperability.

So what do you think? Is this a "very good thing?"