Office 2007 to support ODF… but not the new OOXML

Microsoft will include native support for the ODF and PDF formats in the next Service Pack for Office 2007 – but won’t support its own newly-ratified OOXML until Office 14.

Office 2007 to support ODF... but not the new OOXML

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Office 2007 Service Pack 2, which is due early next year, will include support for the open-source ODF, Adobe’s PDF and Microsoft’s own PDF alternative, XPS.

Microsoft offers support for ODF in its current version of Office but only if additional software is downloaded separately and installed.

“Microsoft is going to be providing support for three new file formats directly in the Office product,” says Erich Anderson, vice president and general counsel for Europe.

The company says it will also join a technical committee that is discussing a newer version of ODF. It didn’t say how long it would support ODF or whether it would support successive versions of ODF.

Curiously, however, Microsoft has no plans to update the OOXML specification in the Service Pack. “Microsoft has defined a roadmap for its implementation of the newly-ratified International Standard ISO/IEC 29500 (Office Open XML). IS29500, which was approved by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in March, is already substantially supported in Office 2007, and the company plans to update that support in the next major version release of the Microsoft Office system, codenamed Office 14,” the company claims in a press statement.

ODF complaints

Microsoft may have decided to have improve support for ODF after complaints about the poor performance of its existing translators. The British government education agency BECTA has complained to competition authorities in London and Brussels that the ODF “translator software” has limited functionality and is poorly integrated, compared with Microsoft’s own products.

The European Commission responded cautiously to Microsoft’s statement.”The Commission would welcome any step that Microsoft took towards genuine interoperability, more consumer choice and less vendor lock-in,” it claims.

The Commission added that it will look into whether Microsoft’s announcement “leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice.”

The Commission has fined Microsoft 1.68 billion euros since 2004, in large part for the company’s failure to provide proper interoperability between Windows and other software.

Microsoft has appealed against part of that, an 899 million euro fine imposed in February for its failure to co-operate. The company has said it will now cooperate with the Commission.

Thomas Vinje in Brussels, a lawyer who has represented clients opposed to Microsoft, says the announcement is meaningless unless Microsoft makes ODF the default standard when people opened Office. If ODF is not the standard its presence “won’t matter because the vast majority will not use it. That was the experience in the US case,” he says, referring to a case which found Microsoft in violation of the Sherman antitrust act.

Carlo Piana, a lawyer in Milan who represents clients who make open source software, says Microsoft’s approach is “too little, too late.”

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