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Microsoft To Add ODF to Office 2007 SP2

Next Office 2007 Service Pack will include native read/write support for XML-based OpenDocument Format files.

When Microsoft ships the next Office 2007 Service Pack, likely in the first half of 2009, it will include native read/write support for XML-based OpenDocument Format (ODF) files. The move is a significant change of course for the software giant, but one that could help placate both regulators and its critics.

"The feedback from the regulatory environment was part of this [decision]," says Gray Knowlton, group product manager for Microsoft Office. "The other thing is what it means for products and what it represents for developers. By adopting ODF in Office we can offer a better solution. In the end it's pretty simple for us."

ISO Fields OOXML Appeals

When the results of the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) were released on April 1, the XML-based specification had easily cleared the bar for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approval as an international standard. However, a series of appeals from ISO member nations have now stalled final approval of the OOXML specification.

On May 23, South Africa filed the first formal appeal, describing the BRM as "poorly conducted." The appeal echoes some widely held criticisms of the ISO process.

"Moreover, we challenge the validity of a process that, from beginning to end, required all parties involved to analyze far too much information in far too little time, involved a BRM that did not remotely provide enough time to perform the appointed purpose of that procedure, and for which an arbitrary time limitation was imposed to discuss and resolve a significant number of substantial responses, despite the directives not requiring any such limitation as to duration," South Africa's letter states.

On May 28 and 29, ISO member nations Brazil and India followed with appeals of their own. According to a May 30 Consortiuminfo.org blog post by standards-watcher Andy Updegrove, the appeals initiate a staged process in which the standards body seeks to find a solution or compromise with the aggrieved nations. That process could potentially keep OOXML locked up for four months or more.

Microsoft, for its part, is not commenting on the situation. "ISO has an appeals process and they're the ones that are going to drive this. It's up to them to say what it means to the standard. We're really not involved," says Microsoft Office Group Product Manager Gray Knowlton.

-- M.D.

Also expected in Office 2007 SP2 is native support for XML Paper Specification (XPS), Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5 and PDF/A, the company disclosed last month.

Until now, Redmond had only committed to implementing ODF compatibility via discreet translators and other add-on solutions. The native XML-based format for Office 2007 is Office Open XML (OOXML), the Microsoft-developed format that in April was approved as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

According to Microsoft, ODF read/write functionality in Office 2007 will be implemented directly within the software. Users will be able to select ODF as default file formats in Office 2007 SP2.

"I think the announcement is more evidence that ODF and OOXML (and PDF) will be considerations for the foreseeable future," says Burton Group Research Director Peter O'Kelly in an e-mail.

Microsoft has faced significant pressure to comply with interoperability targets set by the European Commission (EC). In February, the EC fined Microsoft $1.3 billion for failing to comply with an earlier judgment related to protocol documentation. Days before that action, Microsoft had announced its "interoperability pledge," under which the company has released thousands of pages of documentation around APIs, protocols and file formats.

"The EC scrutiny was probably a consideration, but overall I suspect the plan was more a function of customer and competitor requirements than regulatory compliance concerns," O'Kelly says.

Microsoft also says that it "will be an active participant in the future evolution of ODF, Open XML, XPS and PDF standards." The company plans to join the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) technical committee currently working on version 1.2 of the ODF specification, as well as become active in the ISO/IEC working group formed to maintain the ODF standard.

Some RDN readers question whether or not Microsoft will aggressively support ODF in Office. One reader from Pittsburgh asked how current Office support for ODF will be. "The real test ... comes in the fall when ODF 1.2 comes out," wrote the reader, who only gave the name Tom in response to a blog entry on the RDN site covering the announcement. "What Microsoft does then to support the newest standard is what will show its true colors, at least as far as I'm concerned."

O'Kelly says he doesn't "expect to see any feet-dragging" from Microsoft in supporting upcoming versions of ODF, in part because the spec does not directly threaten OOXML or the Office franchise.

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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