Playing the Standards Game the Microsoft Way

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 07-06-2006
The headline reads, "Microsoft Bows to Pressure to Interoperate with ODF." Oh no, Microsoft isn't. The Redmond crew has an entirely different agenda for "supporting" the OpenDocument Format with its own Open XML Translator.

It's not even news, actually, according to Andrew Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove, and the editor of ConsortiumInfo.org.

"Microsoft's announcement on plug-ins is being treated in the press as 'new news,'" Updegrove said. "Ray Ozzie actually let slip mention of the project last October, and an open-source converter project was started by the same French company last September 26."

"Still, as recently as May 19, Microsoft did not disclose the project when it replied to a [Massachusetts] request for information on plug-ins. Why go public now? Presumably due to the series of pro-ODF announcements made in Europe," he said.

In fact, "The plug-in announcement is but the latest in a series of Microsoft concessions in reaction to the rising popularity of ODF. It will be interesting to see where the string of concessions eventually ends, as this latest fallback to a new defensive position leaves Microsoft far more vulnerable than it seemed only a few short months ago," Updegrove said.

However, much as I respect Updegrove, I don't see it that way. Regarding the timing, I think that it had much more to do with Office 2007's latest delay. Microsoft had to try to drum up some positive buzz for Office 2007, and this was all ready to go. But let's take a closer look at this ODF support of Microsoft's, shall we?

First, consider what Microsoft will actually be offering. It's a set of third-party, add-on utilities that will enable Office users—first only Office 2007 users, but later users of other Microsoft Office programs as well—to read and write in ODF.

It is not a set of programs, open-source BSD license or not, that anyone else will be able to use. The Translator will only work with Microsoft's own proprietary programs. You can't use it, as it is, as an independent bridge between Microsoft's formats and ODF.

There are two key phrases here. The first is "third-party." Jason Matusow, Microsoft's director of standards affairs, came right out and said Microsoft was not contributing code or providing architectural guidance for Open XML Translator.

The OpenDocument Foundation says it will provide a plug-in that will allow Office users to open, render and save to ODF files. Click here to read more.

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