Microsoft To Adopt ODF, Take Role in Format Development

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Microsoft Wednesday posted plans for expanding file format support in the next major revision of Office 2007. The move follows charges from the ODF Alliance and the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) that Microsoft has been stifling options for users by favoring its own OOXML format.

ODF Support and Skepticism
According to information released today by Microsoft, Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2) will include "support for XML Paper Specification (XPS), Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5, PDF/A and Open Document Format (ODF) v1.1." The implementation will eliminate the need for installing additional code or using translators to access ODF documents, Microsoft said.

"When using SP2, customers will be able to open, edit and save documents using ODF and save documents into the XPS and PDF fixed formats from directly within the application without having to install any other code," the company reported. "It will also allow customers to set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007. To also provide ODF support for users of earlier versions of Microsoft Office (Office XP and Office 2003), Microsoft will continue to collaborate with the open source community in the ongoing development of the Open XML-ODF translator project on SourceForge.net."

In addition, Microsoft will take a guiding hand in the future of ODF. (See below.)

As we reported earlier this week, the OpenDocument Format Alliance rallied behind Becta's move to refer complaints about Microsoft interoperability to the European Commission, which has been running an investigation into Microsoft interoperability in relation to anti-competitiveness issues since January of this year. The ODF Alliance's managing director, Marino Marcich, said Monday, "That a major government agency, in this case the UK Government's lead agency for information and communications technology (ICT) in education, felt compelled to take such an action demonstrates that the wider marketplace, which includes educational and training organizations, libraries and archival institutions, will be adversely impacted by OOXML's impediments to interoperability. We have repeatedly urged Microsoft to provide native, built-in support for the truly open ODF document standard, as [Becta] has suggested."

Microsoft had countered by saying that it was committed to interoperability, emphasizing interoperability within the education space.

The ODF Alliance remains skeptical about Microsoft's promise to integrate ODF support in a forthcoming software release. Marcich today issued a statement, saying, "The proof will be whether and when Microsoft's promised support for ODF is on par with its support for its own format. Governments will be looking for actual results, not promises in press releases."

He continued, "What governments want is direct, internal support for ODF in Microsoft Office. Governments do not want to waste time waiting for translators to load or re-engineering default-save functions for their workforce. If Microsoft actually follows through with this most recent promise, it will reinforce the global market-led demand by customers, particularly governments, seeking open standards based interoperability through ODF."

He said that dozens of governments and governmental agencies have adopted "pro-ODF policies," including 12 governments that require its use by their agencies, South Africa and The Netherlands among them. A PDF outlining these governmental initiatives and policies can be found here.

ODF supporter Novell was not so skeptical. "Microsoft's support for ODF in Office is a great step that enables customers to work with the document format that best meets their needs, and it enables interoperability in the marketplace," said Roger Levy, senior vice president and general manager of Open Platform Solutions for Novell, in a statement released today. "Novell is proud to be an industry leader in cross-platform document interoperability through our work in the Document Interoperability Initiative, the Interop Vendor Alliance and with our direct collaboration with Microsoft in our Interoperability Lab. We look forward to continuing this work for the benefit of customers across the IT spectrum."

Office 2007 SP2 is expected to be available in the first half of 2009.

OOXML and ODF Roadmap
Meanwhile, Microsoft said it will take an active role in the future of ODF. The company released information today outlining its plans for involvement in the development and maintenance of various file format standards.

"Microsoft will join the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) technical committee working on the next version of ODF and will take part in the ISO/IEC working group being formed to work on ODF maintenance. Microsoft employees will also take part in the ISO/IEC working group that is being formed to maintain Open XML and the ISO/IEC working group that is being formed to improve interoperability between these and other ISO/IEC-recognized document formats. The company will also be an active participant in the ongoing standardization and maintenance activities for XPS and PDF. It will also continue to work with the IT community to promote interoperability between document file formats, including Open XML and ODF, as well as Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY XML), the foundation of the globally accepted DAISY standard for reading and publishing navigable multimedia content."

As for Office and OOXML, the current suite provides extensive support for OOXML, but Microsoft said this will be expanded further in the next full revision of Office, code-named Office 14. The company is also working on a plan for incorporating the standardized version of OOXML, which is designated as ISO/IEC 29500.

Other changes on the horizon include expanded support for Uniform Office Format, a Chinese file format standard, and involvement with IT groups, including the Interoperability Executive Customer Council, to help determine which aspects of interoperability are most important to customers.

Further information about Microsoft's interoperability plans can be found here.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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