Microsoft Embraces ODF, At Last

Slipstreaming Gull

I was tidying in my office recently and found my attendee badge for the Open Source Convention held in Monterey in 2000. The big news that year (apart from the fact that the world didn't end) was that Sun, which had just bought a German company called Star Division, was releasing their flagship product StarOffice under an open source license and sponsoring a new open source community called OpenOffice.org. The t-shirts we all received just said "Freedom". We all had high hopes that simple but bold move, as well as giving all of us a great document suite, would begin to lubricate the market for document tools and get its corroded competitive gears turning again.

I'm now completely convinced that it worked. The widespread adoption of OpenOffice.org both on Windows (for which millions of copies of OO.o are downloaded each year) and on GNU/Linux (where it is distributed with almost every copy) was an early sign. The growth of OpenDocument format from a seed planted by OpenOffice.org to an independent plant nurtured by OASIS to a spreading young tree at ISO was another.

But today there are many senses in which we all in the OpenOffice.org community could be delighted at our influence on the world of software. The steady pressure has paid off. Not just because OpenOffice.org is better than ever at version 3.0 (now available in a native Mac version among others). But because we were accused of being derivative, yet it's now our innovation that is setting the pace.

Change of Heart?

I'm referring to the announcement Microsoft just made that they will be issuing a service pack for Office that adds native support for ODF. I've been repeatedly calling on them to support ODF like they do many other formats, and to do so in a way that makes it just another format that can be made the default. They've said they will as of SP2, and I warmly congratulate them on finally overcoming the NIH and FUD instincts. Way to go!

More than that, they also announced they will join the OASIS ODF TC and work to develop ODF. I've also been calling on them to do this, pretty much since the TC was formed right in front of them (they are board members at OASIS) in 2002. I'm not a member personally, but if I were I would want to warmly welcome them to the team as it enters the final straights towards completion of ODF 1.2 and submission to ISO.

Of course, I might also reflect on the fact they are finally doing exactly what Stephe Walli said they ought to do to kill ODF. But for now, it's huge, warm congratulations on giving your customers the freedom to leave and the confidence to stay - and a small British mutter of "about bloody time".

Comments:

My pent-up skepticism is the only thing keeping me from jumping out of my chair in jubilation.

We'll see what the follow through is like...

Posted by Peter on May 21, 2008 at 12:32 PM PDT #

Simon,

Past actions lead me to scepticism but lets just hope Microsft is really changing. With standards support in IE8, ODF support in Office, kind of opening up some protocols and interfaces it looks like Microsoft are heading in the right direction.

Posted by Ché Kristo on May 21, 2008 at 01:20 PM PDT #

Simon, Congratulations to Sun and the Open Office team. I know you have had more than a small role in this at Sun. I'm skeptical however. The delivery is set for 2009 and we all know about MS vaporware. But I agree that the announcement is something to celebrate. John Orr (Coyote Gulch)

Posted by John Orr on May 21, 2008 at 11:59 PM PDT #

Good for Microsoft, its good to see there support at long last.

Britec - http://www.britec.org.uk

Posted by Brian on May 22, 2008 at 05:42 AM PDT #

Agreed, on all counts. Way to go indeed.

Posted by Jon Collins on May 24, 2008 at 08:23 AM PDT #

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