This post is a bit hard to write. Let me just put it this way: If my predictions below are true, it will mean that Microsoft will offer some crippled and low-level support of ODF 1.1 in its next version of Microsoft Office. It will also mean that OpenOffice.org will have gained a competitive edge on the market.
Now you may wonder why I find it difficult to write down these things. The reason is the recent post of Doug Mahugh in regard of the support of ODF by MS Office. Instead of providing a detailed review on the matter, Doug explains -a bit laboriously- that interoperability does not mean that each implementation has to do things the same way and that some implementations are more extensive than others. We are then being told that Microsoft Office will have limited support in for ODF tables in Word.
Doug’s initial point is true: there are differences in implementation of a standard. When you have a truly open standard, you can expect implementers to be able to deliver some reliable implementation of the standard. Of course, it depends of the implementation’s focus. Suppose for one moment that I’m in the business of developing and selling IT systems for ATMs. I have an OS that sports an user interface for ATM transactions, another one for administration, and among several other features, an editor that prints out your receipts and the records of your past transactions on demand. One might expect that this editor can support ODF natively and will create ODF documents. These documents are not very complex, and to say it all, they’re even very basic. All what is required for me is to implement the bare minimum of ODF to be compliant and adequately call myself compliant. The minimum compliance with ODF is my right, as the vendor of the ATM receipts editor. My business is not print complex spreadsheets, nor fancy presentations, no: my business is to allow cash machines to print customers’ receipts of their cash transactions at the ATM, that’s all.
Now you have Microsoft’s bellydancing and basically declaring that they, who sell the “best office suite on the market” (I don’t make that claim) will offer poor support on ODF because of product limitations. Am I the only one here feeling that Redmond is trying -again-to play games? Any additional information would be welcome at this stage, of course, but the market should pay close attention to this issue.
I have hailed and declared myself positively satisfied the inclusion of Microsoft in the ODF committees at the OASIS consortium. I have read the contributions of its employees and they were useful and constructive. This being said, Doug’s blog leaves me with an odd taste in my mouth.
To be frank, I feel that Doug has been looking for a way to tell us that Microsoft’s support of ODF will be crappy and that it was intended to be that way. I realize I have no substantial evidence of what I’m asserting here, but since when does Microsoft speak of the new features of MS Office with a sorry tone?
That’s why I just don’t know how to properly assess what kind of message Microsoft is sending right now. The way I see it, Microsoft expects customers will stick to Microsoft Office since it also supports an Open Standard, ODF. However, the support of ODF being of poor quality, customers will roll back to Microsoft’s formats, and life will go on back like it was in the good old days.
I realize this is all « prospective » thinking, and that there is nothing solid aside Microsoft’s announcement of poor support of the ODF file format. I am disappointed by these news, though. Once again, Microsoft’s declarations turn out to be “all hat, no cattle”. The way out of it is known: Choose OpenOffice.org, choose ODF, choose any other office suite, but not the one that offers partial support of an open standard that puts the users first.