LOTUSPHERE - Whoops! IBM products support Microsoft's Open XML

All that money IBM has spent to defeat the proposal, and yet ...

Nobody has invested more in defeating Microsoft's Open XML document format than IBM.

So why is IBM supporting Open XML in a handful of its products?

According to technical documentation on IBM's own Web sites, the company already supports Open XML, the native file format of Microsoft Office 2007, in at least four of its programs.

However, Microsoft Office users interested in testing or switching to Lotus Symphony, IBM's upcoming challenger to Office, may be disheartened by signs that IBM won't budge from its stance that it will support only documents created in Office 2003 and prior versions.

IBM did not return a request for comment. The company is holding its annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando from Sunday to Wednesday.

The software that support Open XML include IBM's Lotus Quickr collaboration platform, its Websphere Portal for z/OS mainframes, its DB2 Content Manager v8.4 and its DB2 9 pureXML database.

Apart from DB2 9 pureXML, which can "consume and repurpose" Open XML files, the support that the IBM software offers is generally limited being able to import data from Open XML files, the native file format of Microsoft Office 2007.

But considering the vigor with which IBM is opposing Open XML as part of its ambitions to take down Microsoft's dominance in the Office market, any support for Open XML by IBM is a bit of surprise.

For the past several years, the company has lobbied politicians within the US and internationally to create laws favoring the use of software that is either open-source or complies with international open standards, such as the OpenDocument Format (ODF) for Office Applications used natively by Lotus Symphony.

IBM has also fought against Open XML's ratification by the ISO, with its employees and executives among the most prominent bloggers decrying the would-be standard.

"I think there are many reasons why Microsoft's XML specification for its own Office products, OOXML, will ultimately fail in the marketplace," wrote IBM vice president of standards Bob Sutor in a blog entry last March entitled "Why OOXML will ultimately fail." "Many people, including myself, have described how it is monstrously large, not particularly good XML and so not amenable to easy processing by standard XML tools, essentially a dump of Microsoft's own product requirements and mistakes, and will, in the end, be fully implemented by Microsoft alone."

A Microsoft technical evangelist for Open XML, Doug Mahugh, first blogged about IBM's support of Open XML on Friday.

Other companies with products that compete heavily with Microsoft Office are also implementing support for Open XML. They include Google (Google Apps), Apple (iWork) and Novell (OpenOffice.org).

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Eric Lai

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