The biggest news, pick up by news agencies and bloggers worldwide, is Microsoft’s Press Release about Microsoft Office supporting ODF 1.1 with SP2, scheduled for shipping in 2009. I will talk about this later. As Andy Updegrove highlighted, buried in the Press Release is that SP2 will NOT support ISO-blessed OOXML, but OOXML support is scheduled for the next version of Office. To me, this is the big news. One valuable lesson OOXML standardization through ISO teaches me is how Microsoft PR spins news. Hence, I am afraid all these lines about PDF/XPS/ODF support in SP2 are there to hide the fact that OOXML will not be supported in SP2
The delay in implementing OOXML in Microsoft Office means a few things to me. First and foremost, Microsoft did move a long way between ECMA OOXML and ISO OOXML, so long that they diverge significantly from Microsoft Office’s implementation of the XML format. We can see this in the difference between the two versions. To be able to claim ISO OOXML support Microsoft do have a lot of homework to do. It’s a pity that even this rather large concession still results in a lousily written standard. It is no secret that I think all these changes between ECMA and ISO OOXML to me should had been done in the earlier stage.
Second, the reason Microsoft hammer OOXML through ISO is politics. They know pushing their data format through ISO means a lot of changes. At some stage, perhaps from the beginning, they would had realized that they cannot deliver ISO OOXML in Microsoft products in the near term. The correct thing to do at that time will be to stop the process, works out all the problems then resubmit. After all, there is no technical need for ISO standard. HOWEVER, they STILL want their document standard to be an ISO Standard to be able to stall ODF adoption by government because it is a ISO standard. They just want to plant their fact to advance their business interest, never mind that it is detriment to the customers’ need.
Third, we are in the situation where the company with the WORST ISO OOXML support is Microsoft. We all know all those claim that so-and-so application supports OOXML normally means they use the toolkit supplied by Microsoft that can read/write to OOXML. However, there are instances where third party actually developed their own OOXML kit. These people are screwed again by Microsoft. Perhaps Microsoft don’t care because those who took the trouble are mainly their competitions such as OpenOffice.org/KOffice. Better if they wasted valuable resources on it since it means less time spent competing with Microsoft.
Fourth. We may in fact, never see a full implementation of ISO OOXML. Microsoft already said that it will support ODF 1.1, not ISO ODF (version 1.0). That is a correct technical decision, since ODF 1.1 is the norm today. Superimpose this tread of thinking on to OOXML and what do you get? Microsoft not implementing ISO OOXML, but a later, “enhanced” version which they dictate the development of. To critics who says this will not happen, let me remind you that ISO OOXML support is still an raincheck. We know that the earliest posible date is in two years time, i.e. 2010. Do you really believe that Microsoft Office format will stay stagnant at ISO OOXML for the two years??? I put my money on Microsoft Office in 2010 saving in the “updated” OOXML format, with the ability to save to ISO OOXML. When that comes true, every other office suite will still be in the same situation as they are today: forever playing catch up.
Lastly, to those who says OOXML is needed urgently, therefore we should sacrifice quality for speed, you just had egg on your face. The urgency is so strong that we can wait till 2010. Yeah!
By the time OOXML is supported in Microsoft Office, it is very likely that OpenDocument Formula committee would had came out with a specification for formulas. This made all the comments made by pro OOXML people that ODF lacks formula standard moot. After all, by the time we consume any ISO OOXML, we will have formula standard for ODF. Moreover, given the way it is developed, it is likely that the formula standard for ODF is be a better one from OOXML.
The other news is South Africa throwing a spanner in ISO OOXML by appealing (Updegrove coverage, OpenMalaysia blog with transcripts and links to the letters.) I am not sure whether the appeal is within the appeal period but it probably is. The appeal effectively state what we already know: The standard is too big, Fast Track process is abused here, some rules appear to not being adhere to and therefore need further scrutiny/clarification from people in charge of overseeing the process. Whether the appeal be successful is everyone’s guess. The important impact of the appeals is ISO can no longer dismiss the claims as from non-stakeholders and it can therefore ignore it
Let’s get some issues away before discussing ODF. Microsoft’s announcement of XPS (PDF competition) support in SP2 is only to be expected. XPS support was pulled at the very last minute before Office 2007 ship because Adobe filed an antitrust complain over it. Now that Office supports PDF the same way it supports XPS, it is only to be expected that both goes into SP2.
On Microsoft’s native support for ODF in SP2, assuming that it is not vaporware (which it still could be), will make Microsoft the second vendor (but first major vendor) with pledges to support read/write in both OOXML and ODF. [The first is of course Novell’s bastardized version of OpenOffice.org. It is so small and niche compared to OpenOffice.org that I at present do not consider it a major player] As I always said, I believe both ODF and OOXML camp, if they truely believe they can win the beauty pageant, they should let both formats fight it out on their applications and not put up artificial barrier, certainly not putting out an “import only” trap.
Here are some of my thoughts about other people’s comment on Microsoft Office ODF support:
- PJ : She is unhappy about it and devoted 95% of the blog post to criticizing it in the light of Microsoft’s Interoperability Initiatives. I think the post is a good starting point on what to watch out with this announcement but the negative tone she used was slightly uncalled for. She implied, when she about Doug Mahugh’s comment that “Not everything in Microsoft Office can be saved in ODF” is that Microsoft is insincere. If I were to make that point I would not take this as an example. With SP2, I do not expect everything in MS Office to be savable in ODF. Even if MS Office abandon OOXML today and move to ODF, it takes time to transition to full compliance. Of course I don’t expect Microsoft to abandon OOXML. The important point here is how MS Office handles the incompatibility. Do they use it to say simply that it is a different format and saving to it might cause some problem in a neutral way? Or do they compose a nasty messages about ODF? Let’s not forget that OpenOffice.org display a message warning you of the incompatibility if you save in doc format for a long time now. That message is of course, delivered in an informative and neutral way which makes it acceptable to me.
- A lot of commentators: Microsoft rejoin OASIS ODF committee to stall it. My take: Unlikely. Do that and I am sure that SUN and IBM will point it out immediately. It will be bad ethics and probably get Microsoft censored. Moreover, EC is watching
I like the following quote from Ditesh on OpenMalaysiaBlog about Microsoft’s new found openness:
“Microsoft’s Interoperability Initiative is geared to ensure that software (open source or otherwise) run well on Microsoft platforms. It is important to view this in its correct perspective: there has been very little effort from Microsoft to ensure its own software runs well on competing platforms.”
translation: You work, we talk. It will be too much to ask for Windows running on other platform since it is an operating system. However, other applications, such as MS Office can.