Microsoft: "We'll do ODF. OOXML, that'll have to wait...."

Microsoft announced yesterday plans to implement ODF support in Office 2007, which presumably will be ready for a SP2 release in at least a half a year. Interesting, but not surprising, was the other fact, where Microsoft said that they won’t be releasing an ISO-compliant version of the OOXML format until Office 14 ships, which I doubt we’ll see until at least 2010, if not later.

There is plenty of speculation at Microsoft’s decision on this. I tend to agree with the impression that the OOXML Spec finally passed by ISO is simply too different from what Microsoft offered in Office 2007, but they require the ability to save a standardized XML format to appease government’s, particularly in Europe. While this development makes me hopeful, first that the OOXML passed by ISO may actually be a decent format (unlikely), but also that this gives ODF a window to gain some mind share. ODF certainly won’t be the default, and the Slashdot crowd is positive Microsoft will gimp it somehow.

I’m not convinced Microsoft will. The clients who are demanding ODF would certainly notice, and if the ODF support in Office was lacking, they’d be far more likely to switch to Open Office (or something similar) than continue working within the confines of an application which didn’t meet their needs. With the number of governments beginning to require that documentation be stored in standardized, documented formats, Microsoft can’t afford to have a bad ODF implementation, if their implementation of OOXML is still years out. I would be apt to encourage people to look at Open Office anyway, as it does a great job of opening legacy MS Office files, and even does well with the the Office 2007 OOXML files in the more recent versions. The biggest hurdle has always been that Open Office ODF files (the default file type) wouldn’t open in MS Office, on my Eee PC Asus even went so far as to make MS Office formats the defaults for saving.

This is, in my mind, the best part about Microsoft implementing this. I’ll be able to send people ODF files, and have a reasonable expectation of them working. I don’t think this will necessarily lead to more people using Open Office, however. Open Office has always had support for MS Office formats (though that support has improved greatly over recent months), and most people stuck with Microsoft. As with Linux Users, Open Office users are a percentage of Office Suite users, and Open Office users outside of the Linux platform are a smaller percentage still.

Any ODF-mindshare gained by this move from Microsoft, will very likely be squashed in Office 14, with a compliant OOXML implementation that will undoubtedly be made the default format, and that most people will use simply because it’s the default. Still, it gives people a choice, an option, and this option allows the embracing of a truly open standard, which may help open the door to others. Here’s to waiting for Office 2007 SP2.