Kicking and Screaming

The Light Through The Leaves

If you have an eye for announcements about OpenDocument, you will have spotted the fact that Microsoft has further retreated from their condemnation of OpenDocument by announcing that they "endorse" an open source project being conducted by three other firms to convert between their proprietary Office 12 XML format and ISO 26300 OpenDocument. The last objection to use of OpenDocument as your base-line workflow and archival format is gone.

I'm delighted they have recognised the importance of ODF and no longer oppose it. In fact, I invite them to finally engage with the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee, which they have long been free and able to do but for their public posture towards OpenDocument (which is only mending, not healthy, as Erwin points out). They would also be most welcome to join the other 220+ organisations in the ODF Alliance. However, the move they announced today really is the absolute minimum they could do.

What they have announced is a project on Sourceforge that adds a clearly separate ODF facility to Word 2007:

If installation is successful, you should see a new “ODF” entry in the “File” menu in Word 2007. It allows you to either import an ODF text file or export your current working document as an ODF text file (note that during development process, those functionalities might be temporary unavailable).

Important note: The ODF file opened by the add-in is converted into Office OpenXML (Office 2007 new file format) and imported into Word as a read-only file. If you want to save it as ODF, you have to use the "Export as ODF" button and provide a new file name (that can be the same as the current file name).

This is clearly inferior to the OpenDocument Foundation plug-in for Word, which elegantly adds ODF as another, peer file format so you can open, save and work with files in a natural way. Microsoft has architected this to make ODF as hard to work with as possible - imported files are read-only, there's no export function until late this year at the earliest, and you can't set ODF as the default file format. Nonetheless, it does mean that those who have to stick with Microsoft's product for whatever reason (such as having an accessibility device that's dependent on proprietary internals of Office and thus won't work with anything else) are able to join in with ISO26300-based workflows.

This does not change my view on best practice for government one bit. The right approach for governments is to use a file format that's an open, completely no-strings-attached standard, designed with multiple implementations in mind and actually implemented in multiple products. Today that's ISO26300 OpenDocument, and Microsoft's product is now able to use it too. Anyone who cares about the longevity of their documents or their Freedom to Leave should exchange and store them as OpenDocument, whatever working format they choose locally in their application.

The main lesson I draw from all this, though, is that if we want to see Microsoft behaving in a way that respects customers and standards, they will need to be dragged kicking and screaming and FUDing all the way to that conclusion. As Andy Updegrove writes:

the fact that Microsoft would support the creation of a plugin is not itself new information. In fact, last September, ZDNet's Dan Farber reported on [a] conversation with Microsoft's Ray Ozzie in a brief blog entry dated October 25 ... Clearly, Microsoft has been hedging its bets for quite a while, by supporting the development of conversion tools, but holding off on letting it be known that switching to ODF compliant software would be less of an issue than otherwise would have appeared to be the case. ... So why now? I suspect that the recent wave of news from Europe in general in support of ODF, and the announcement made in June by Belgium in particular, led to this latest fall back in defensive position by Microsoft.

Indeed, huge credit is due to the Belgian government for their brave announcement of use of OpenDocument. We all need to keep on demanding and using ISO 26300 OpenDocument for our workflows, because we now know that Microsoft's supposed "principles" here are actually marketing positions that they will retract once their bluff is called. Onward, freedom!

Comments:

Microsoft has architected this to make ODF as hard to work with as possible - imported files are read-only, and you can't set ODF as the default file format.

No surprise. But it's open source. It can be forked and done the right way!

Posted by Swashbuckler on July 06, 2006 at 02:43 AM PDT #

I think that the telling quote is:

"We wanted to have this project be really transparent," Paoli said. "No translation is perfect. There are a lot of trade-offs between Open XML, which is actually full-featured and backward-compatible, and ODF, which is more limited."

Alan.

Posted by Alan Hargreaves on July 06, 2006 at 10:46 AM PDT #

Isn't it funny how all the docs available for that converter are in the .doc format only?

Posted by Dalibor Topic on July 06, 2006 at 11:54 AM PDT #

They'll provide them in ODF once the converter works!

Posted by Swashbuckler on July 07, 2006 at 12:22 AM PDT #

"This is clearly inferior to the OpenDocument Foundation plug-in for Word, which elegantly adds ODF as another, peer file format so you can open, save and work with files in a natural way."

Have you actually seen this OpenDocument Foundation Plugin?

Posted by jason on July 12, 2006 at 06:38 AM PDT #

Jason asked: Have you actually seen this OpenDocument Foundation Plugin?

Yes, I saw it demonstrated at a meeting in Brussels last Tuesday evening. Very clean, simple and fast, and at least as complete as the Microsoft plug-in - but exports as well as imports.

Posted by Simon Phipps on July 12, 2006 at 06:45 AM PDT #

Ok, that's good to hear. Do you know why the Foundation hasn't released anything for the community to try out? Announcements without code always seem rather fishy...

Posted by jason on July 12, 2006 at 06:51 AM PDT #

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