“We should dedicate a cross-group team to come up with ways to leverage Windows technically more.”
–Jim Allchin, Microsoft
How quickly things change. Several months ago, Stephen Walli, a former a Microsoft manager and also a consultant/advisor to them, said that Microsoft would need to support ODF. He argued that this was inevitable. Are we beginning to see first signs of this prophecy materialising? It sure looks like it. [via Andy Updegrove]
Also, if individual governments mandate the use of ODF instead of Open XML, Microsoft would adapt, Knowlton said. The company would then implement the missing functionality that ODF doesn’t support. However, those extensions would be custom-designed and outside of the standard, which is counter to the idea of an open document standard, Knowlton said. “Disastrous? No. But definitely not preferable,” he said.
It is worth adding that Microsoft took a similar approach in the adoption of next-generation DVD formats. Even though it backed Toshiba’s HDDVD and may have issued a fat cheque (bribe) to support Toshiba, Microsoft also said that if Sony’s Blu-ray wins, it will support it. These claims were made earlier this year and then again approximately a week ago. The funny thing is that earlier this week Microsoft jumped at the press again and claimed this a to be mistake made by a Microsoft spokesman. Microsoft surely realised that this was damaging to its attempt to save HDDVD amid a stunning defeat.
The same goes for ODF and OOXML in this case. The quote above shows that Microsoft is already looking at the possibility of supporting, implementing and incorporating ODF. It makes it clear that this is doable, but the company is very cautious with its use of words. If it utters something which can be perceived as ODF endorsement, ISO can reject OOXML and claim that ODF (plus the extensions that Microsoft speaks about in this case) may be sufficient, rendering OOXML totally obsolete. Standards should be unified, single, universal. By putting opaque extensions in a "deprecated basket", Microsoft has just made ECMA-OOXML simply a duplicate candidate, which surely should be rejected.
Mark those word from Microsoft’s Knowlton. They will be very handy in the future. Essentially, Microsoft has just shown willingness to deviate from its broken formats (OOXML). The aim is of course to keep its cash cow (Microsoft Office) relevant to a wider audience. It hopes to conquer even countries where ODF is strictly required. What this means to interoperability is a separate matter worth discussing in isolation.
Early in the week we spoke about the Dutch group which demanded access to old and increasingly-deprecated binary formats. This is required for easing the migration from Microsoft Office binaries to ODF. The group appears to be getting its way at the moment if Groklaw’s suppositions are in fact correct. But there is also a big catch.
There’s nothing like an EU Commission investigation to get Microsoft to open up a little, is there?
Microsoft says it will make the release of the binary formats by February 15th. I don’t see how that gives anyone time to evaluate before the ballot resolution meeting at the end of February.
Whatever happens at the end, ODF is here to stay and thrive. Andy Updegrove’s words on this matter are very reassuring.
The unexpected success of ODF in the marketplace is a symptom of fundamental shifts in a maturing IT ecosystem, characterized by increasingly sophisticated and demanding end users, resurgent competition, new enabling technologies, and other forces that are largely beyond Microsoft’s control.
History teaches that monopolies in the marketplace, like empires in the broader world, are rarely sustainable over long periods of time, and ultimately fall victim to both external attack and internal weaknesses. The degree to which Microsoft’s competitors have embraced, and many Microsoft customers and national governments alike have resonated, with ODF are strong indications that the foundations upon which Microsoft’s historical dominance has been based may at last be weakening.
The most important message of this post is that Microsoft has just admitted that it can graft its ECMA-OOXML ‘extensions’ and mount them on top of the international standard, ODF. Microsoft has given yet another reason to reject simplified OOXML, which is a case of reinventing the wheel and unnecessarily fragmenting the industry. █