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ODF Goes Native in Office

So Microsoft says it's going to natively support the OpenDocument Format (ODF) XML-based file formats in the upcoming version of Microsoft Office 2007.

As Dave Nagel reports, Service Pack 2 (SP2) of Office 2007 will add support for ODF v1.1. The move will eliminate the need to install discreet code or translators to read and write ODF documents within Office, according to a statement.

Normally, such an announcement wouldn't be news. After all, Office has natively supported a host of popular or standards-based formats over the years, including HTML and Rich Text Format (RTF). In the case of ODF, however, the software giant has dragged its feet on ODF support for years, contending that the format failed to adequately render Office documents. Microsoft has long promoted its own Office Open XML (OOXML) file format -- recently approved as an ISO standard -- as a better option.

That hasn't changed, but the addition of native ODF support in Office 2007 SP2 is a major shift for the company. Perhaps most notable, Microsoft said in a statement that SP2 will "allow customers to set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007."

The problem is, Microsoft has a major credibility issue here. No matter what the software giant does or says, no one in the ODF community believes that it will deny its own OOXML format an advantage over ODF. Which is why the European Commission (EC) continues to investigate Microsoft for anti-competitive practices, and why the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) had decided to refer interoperability complaints to the EC.

As ODF Alliance Managing Director Marino Marcich put it:

"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."

For Microsoft, ODF support is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't deals. Even if it essentially hands away vital competitive leverage by putting ODF on par with OOXML in the Office UI, it will take months or even years to convince folks like Marcich and investigators at the EC of its sincerity.

What do you think of Microsoft's move to provide native support for ODF 1.1 in Office 2007 SP2? Can the company do more to convince skeptics of its intentions, or do you see this as just another smokescreen out of Redmond? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/27/2008

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