ODF guardedly welcomes Microsoft’s Office XML move

ODF supporters have guardedly welcomed Microsoft’s move to participate in an open-source project to make Microsoft’s Office Open XML compatible with the ODF format.

Sun Microsystems’ Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps said he was ‘delighted’ but ultimately thought Microsoft should bite the bullet and ‘engage with the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee, which they have long been free and able to do’.

But he was sceptical over Microsoft’s efforts and intentions. ‘This is clearly inferior to the OpenDocument Foundation plug-in for Word, which elegantly adds ODF as another, peer file format so you can open, save and work with files in a natural way. Microsoft has architected this to make ODF as hard to work with as possible – imported files are read-only, there’s no export function until late this year at the earliest, and you can’t set ODF as the default file format.’

OpenOffice.org issued a release describing the announcement as a ‘first step’ forced on Microsoft because of market pressure, but said the tool was only a ‘partial’ solution.

It said Microsoft should allow users of all Office versions to set ODF as their default file format. It called on software vendors to participate with Microsoft to make sure ODF – known as the ISO 26300 standard – works well with Microsoft products and that testing be open to all-comers.

OpenForum Europe was equally cautious in its welcome and again pointed to the strong support garnered by the format since its inception, particularly in Europe.

Most recently, the Belgium government decided to exclusively use open file formats for internal communications from September 2008.

Ruling the lucrative government and public sector space is essentially what the file format debate is all about. Although many departments remain Microsoft shops, ODF has raised the issue of the public duty to ensure documents produced in this sector are not stored in a proprietary format – that is prey to the whims of the software vendor, with all the risks of incompatibility, future obsolescence, commercial lock ins and having to pay for software in order to access these documents.

Phipps summed up the feelings of many in this camp. ‘The right approach for governments is to use a file format that’s an open, completely no-strings-attached standard, designed with multiple implementations in mind and actually implemented in multiple products.’

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