Sun and Microsoft slug it out over ODF

Sun’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz has predicted that the Open Document Format will become the default document format of the future.

Sun and Microsoft slug it out over ODF

In his blog, Schwartz outlined the importance of an open standards-based document format where its life span is not tied to that of the software used to access it. ‘Information always outlives technology,’ he wrote. ‘Durability of information and file formats is exceptionally important to institutions or businesses with document retention policies that extend beyond the useful life of the software (and employees) creating the documents – and ensures the availability of information well into the future. The same applies to the photographs in the shoebox – as the CIO of my home, I want the images to outlive me.’

Sun and Google are using the ODF format as the basis for interoperability between Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets online Office suite and the Open Office software.

And Sun expects to have a plug-in for Microsoft’s Word software available in ‘a few weeks’ which will allow users to view and save files in the ODF format.

‘From then on, ODF becomes your default format,’ claims Schwartz. ‘Whether you’re an oil company or a high school student – ODF will enable seamless interoperability between open source and closed source environments – for as long as the standard, not the technology or product, exists.’

Microsoft itself supports the ODF format, but is also pushing its own XML-based office format Office OpenXML. Microsoft’s Jason Matusow responded that there’s nothing specific about ODF to make it the format of choice, but rather it is the XML standard that ensures long term access in document formats.

‘ODF is no better nor worse than Open XML at enabling technical access in 100 years simply because both are XML files and can be opened up easily. In fact, the Open XML translator project shows that it is a relatively easy task to build an independent piece of code that lets you do that,’ he said.

‘There are dozens of document format standards, some from consortia, some from national bodies, and some from international bodies. The whole “only one” argument is really a commercially-driven sentiment that does not reflect the market reality, nor the desire of customers to have more choice – not less. I think it is great [Sun and Google] are building translation capability, I hope they continue to do so as it is the exact right thing to enable for customers.’

Sun confirms Matusow’s argument on the importance of the standard over format in that it started work today on an XML translation tool for Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software in Office 2007. The import filter will allow the Calc component of OpenOffice to read and save spreadsheets in the SpreadsheetML format.

Microsoft’s standards expert Brian Jones described the initiative as ‘very cool’.

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