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OpenXML vs ODF round 497

Money, money, money

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Another day and another Microsoft event designed to promote the importance and flexibility of OpenXML, this time using some of the company’s UK partners to make the point. And it is a fair point, if only because the company’s Office Suite is so well-entrenched in so many businesses and organisations. Getting it to interoperate with other applications is an obviously important step that has to be taken.

But it still all begs the same question of why the company is expending so much effort on trying to establish the new file format as an official standard, and the answer is almost certainly still the same – money. One can only speculate at the actual number but there is a direct correlation between that effort and the amount of revenue Microsoft will lose if it fails, because a growing number of national governments and public authorities around the world are committing to use only products meeting ISO standards.

This is descending into a rather unedifying squabble between Microsoft on the one hand and IBM – and the other proponents of Open Document Format (ODF) – on the other. ODF has already been ratified as an ISO standard, so any product utilizing it will get an automatic tick in the `Buy This?’ box from such organisations. They represent a goodly wedge of business out into the future, business that will not be open to Microsoft if it fails in its attempts to gain ISO approval.

But let’s face it, if ISO fails to approve OpenXML then it will be disenfranchising an installed base that, despite all the bile and opprobrium piled on the company and all its works from so many quarters, may well want to continue using them. And it is not unknown for ISO to have two different standards for the same requirement.

I suspect I represent the views of most users. I have old files on storage disks, some still in WordStar 3 format. All I want to do is be able to get them into whatever format is relevant to me now should (and when) I need to. So the most important aspect – and the only bit of technology ISO actually needs to concern itself with – is the translation between different formats. Translators exist (or very nearly exist) between ODF and OpenXML. Microsoft has tools for bringing a whole range of ancient WP and similar file formats into OpenXML, and tools exist to automate the file translation process as large batch jobs. Making sure there are standards for the translation processes, so that everything old can be brought into anything new (which means anything new adheres to those standards) is all that is required.

It is just a shame that ISO is now the bullet that both sides are trying to shoot at each other in this war over which wins the future governmental and public services business around the world. The only other point to make is that Microsoft did bring this on themselves with its historic attitude about the customers’ divine right to render up as much money as possible. As soon as Linux and then OpenOffice came on the scene it was hardly surprising that the public bodies politely stuck up two fingers at Microsoft and ran in the opposite direction. ®

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