Microsoft And Open Format Support

Microsoft must put ODF support into the next revision of Office, as a great deal of money depends on it. If the European Union takes a look at the finished product, Office 2007 SP2, and likes what it sees, Microsoft is off the hook for a very large amount in fines.

The EU has decided that the company from Redmond should make interoperability a watchword, since it was touting it for some time, with little progress toward the solution. Frankly, the EU is giving Microsoft way too much time, as the coders at Microsoft have the specifications – they are open, for Pete’s sake. Sun and the open source community reverse engineered support for the funky OOXML standard in less time than the EU is giving Microsoft to go the other way with ODF.

Another thing about the interoperability, and something Microsoft should have done from the beginning, if it truly thinks that Office is better than Open Office, is to let the two products compete on a level playing field. If Office shows its mettle, then Microsoft wins both sales and mindshare, with the average Joe knowing that Office really is the ‘high-priced spread’.


Microsoft is planning on releasing SP2 in 2009, with support to save documents in ODF format as standard, in the name of ‘interoperability’, while adding PDF and XPS save/export compatibility without requiring any add-on software. The EU’s Commission has ‘taken note’ and welcomed the decision, while promising to investigate it further. What does this mean?

The European Commission is set to investigate whether Microsoft’s intention to support ODF in Office 2007’s upcoming SP2 (service pack 2) next year will truly “lead to better interoperability” or not, following Microsoft’s announcement on Wednesday.

The ODF (Open Document Format) is an attempt by Microsoft’s competitors, including IBM and Sun, to create an open document storage format that prevents individuals, companies and governments from being locked into Microsoft formats and thus forever buying Microsoft software.

The quality of Microsoft’s ODF compatibility will become a key question to as whether or not the EU will choose to impose new fines on Microsoft for flouting its interoperability  rulings, something Microsoft has already been fined billions of dollars for in the past.

Microsoft recently won the right to have its OOXML ‘open document’ format become a recognised ISO standard, much to the chagrin of Microsoft’s competitors, many of whom say Microsoft’s claims to be open are but pure trickery which will never lead to Microsoft truly opening itself up to anyone.

Still, when massive organisations like the EU can impose multi-billion dollar fines, this kind of legal pressure is hard to resist, with Microsoft effectively saying it is now, er… “voluntarily” complying and really, really wants to be open… er… now.

It is no surprise that the EU Commission is skeptical, with their specific short and sweet statement headlined as “Antitrust: Commission takes note of Microsoft’s announcement on supporting ODF in Office”, with the statement itself saying: “The European Commission has taken note of Microsoft’s announcement on 21st May concerning supporting ODF in Office. The Commission would welcome any step that Microsoft took towards genuine interoperability, more consumer choice and less vendor lock-in.”

The statement continues: “In its ongoing antitrust investigation concerning interoperability with Microsoft Office (see MEMO/08/19), the Commission will investigate whether the announced support of ODF (OpenDocument format) in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice.”

Microsoft is getting a good deal here – and should thank the gods of binary transmission that the EU is so easily swayed by their orations and promises. The voluntary compliance we are talking about is the same voluntary compliance that prisoners show once locked into their cells.

Quote of the day:
It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. – Bertrand Russell


[tags] Microsoft, ODF, interoperability, European Union, fines, voluntary compliance, ISO standards, antitrust [/tags]