Microsoft’s ODF Policy Gets Skeptical Reception From EU

It didn’t take long for the European Union (EU) to react to Microsoft’s Wednesday announcement that it would provide support for additional document formats in its market-dominating Microsoft Office productivity suite. Shortly after Microsoft announced that it would support the Open Document Format (ODF) v1.1 with the future release of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2), the EU released a short statement noting that its European Commission is aware of Microsoft’s promise.

Still, the short memo posted online by the EC belied a bit of skepticism.

“The Commission would welcome any step that Microsoft took towards genuine interoperability, more consumer choice and less vendor lock-in,” the memo noted, then added, “The Commission will investigate whether the announced support of ODF in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice.”

Microsoft’s Plan

In addition to supporting ODF, Microsoft said it will also include support for XML Paper Specification (XPS), Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5 and PDF/A.

When using Office 2007 updated with SP2, Microsoft said, customers will be able to open, edit and save documents using ODF and save documents into the XPS and PDF fixed formats from directly within the application — without having to install any other code. It will also let customers set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007, Microsoft noted, then clarified that it will also work on ODF support for users of earlier versions of Microsoft Office (Office XP and Office 2003) by collaborating with the open source community in the ongoing development of the Open XML-ODF translator project on

“We are committed to providing Office users with greater choice among document formats and enhanced interoperability between those formats and the applications that implement them,” noted Chris Capossela, senior vice president for the Microsoft business division.

“By increasing the openness of our products and participating actively in the development and maintenance of document format standards, we believe we can help create opportunities for developers and competitors, including members of the open source communities, to innovate and deliver new value for customers,” he added.

In addition, Microsoft has said it has defined a road map for its implementation of the newly ratified International Standard ISO/IEC 29500 (Office Open XML). IS29500, which was approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in March, is already substantially supported in Office 2007, and Microsoft plans to update that support in the next major version release of the Microsoft Office system, code-named “Office 14.”

Of course, Microsoft has come under fire for battling — some would say bullying — to make Office Open XML an international standard. Microsoft uses Office Open XML as its default standard file format in its Microsoft Office suite.

Formats for Everyone

“The demand for a document format that everyone can use is something I hear from our customers on a regular basis,” noted John D. Head, framework manager at PSC Group, a Chicago-headquartered IT and professional services consulting firm.

“I am very pleased that Microsoft is enabling Microsoft Office to support ODF directly from the software. This will allow us to develop solutions that create documents that can be edited by any user, regardless of what software or operating system they use. In a world where software companies want people to select one software package for their entire user base, the reality is that different user groups and types need options. Microsoft is now enabling users to make that choice,” he explained.

Heads Down With the EC

SP2 for Office isn’t expected to be ready until the first half of 2009, so it’s hard to say what the EC investigation may turn up between now and then, as well as after the release.

The European Union is hard to figure out in terms of what they’re doing exactly, Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, told LinuxInsider. “They mention something and then they are sort of heads down for … a couple of years until they have something to say,” he explained.

“I think Microsoft is looking at the big picture here and deciding that they have to be better when it comes to interoperability. They really don’t want to go through another big European Union investigation. The last one was expensive, and it impacted how they do their business in certain ways, and I think they’d rather be proactive and get these things out of the way before they progress too far.”

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