FAQ: Office 14 and Microsoft's support for ODF

Answering a few lingering questions

Changes were made to OOXML between Ecma's approval a year and a half ago and ISO's approval this spring. Microsoft won't support the ISO version until Office 14 arrives around the end of 2009. Is this a big deal, as Microsoft critics such as Andy Updegrove claim?

Burton Group analyst Guy Creese, who as some of you might recall co-authored a controversial white paper earlier this year [[Art Id:676376556|predicting that OOXML would win the format battle with ODF, agrees with Microsoft's critics.

"I think Microsoft is taking too long," he said. "I can't imagine that they wouldn't support it sooner if they could, so there must be some significant work required."

On the other hand, Creese says that the difference between the various versions of OOXML is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty small. It's much smaller than the difference between OOXML and an older binary format, such as Office 2003 or Office 2000. And most users don't worry much losing data when resaving between those formats (though document archivists and power users working with complex forms or macros might have problems).

Creese also points out that since OOXML is, obviously, based on human-readable XML rather than binary characters, the "chances of information ever becoming unrecoverable are a lot less."

These developments naturally trigger other questions:

Well, can Microsoft at least provide support sooner for the version of OOXML that Ecma submitted to ISO back in January?

That earlier version is most notable for better graphics rendering and backward compatibility. But according to a spokeswoman, Microsoft has no plans to do so.

Why did Microsoft belatedly support ODF and PDF?

Not to woo consumers, for whom ODF and PDF support are nice-to-have but not essential features, but to ensure Microsoft Office remains acceptable to governments, who exercise their power as huge buyers of technology, as well as policymakers.

For instance, Belgium, the Netherlands and South Africa have all said they favor using ODF today, especially because Microsoft Office doesn't yet support the ISO-approved version of OOXML.

In the US, both Minnesota and the state of New York recently came out in favour of open document formats, though neither spoke explicitly of supporting ODF or OOXML.

With its move, "if a government says ODF is our standard, than Microsoft can say, 'It's our standard, too,'" Creese said.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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