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Microsoft to ODF, PDF - let's get it on together

ODF champion says 'put your tongue away'

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A Microsoft pledge to support current and future versions of Open Document Format (ODF) in Office has been greeted with skepticism by the industry group leading ODF.

Microsoft said Tuesday its planned Office 2007 Service Pack 2 will add support for ODF 1.1 - the industry backed document format Microsoft has challenged with Office Open XML. SP2 will also add Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format, PDF 1.5 along with XML Paper Specification (XPS), which Microsoft had been attempting to push as a page display alternative to PDF.

Microsoft, meanwhile, said it's joining a technical committee at the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to work on the next release of ODF.

Don't get too excited by this outbreak of peace. SP2 isn’t due until the first half of 2009, meaning you've got a good year before you can save an Office 2007 document using ODF. Ahead of that lies SP1, due at the beginning of June.

There is also no word on if, or when, SPs will be delivered that bring ODF and PDF to the vast install base of customers and developers working with older versions of Office.

Accordingly, the ODF Alliance, the group of vendors and national bodies leading ODF, has warned against premature celebrations saying we should wait and see what Microsoft actually delivers in SP2. ODF Alliance managing director Marino Marcich said the proof of Microsoft’s commitment to openness would be whether ODF support is on a par with Open XML.

He pointed to Microsoft's promise two years ago to support ODF, when it backed an existing BSD project for an Open XML Translator. The project, to deliver an Office add-on to save documents in ODF, is also due in the first half of 2009. That software has not been finished, and it’s not clear whether today’s announcement for support will use the translator.

“Until Microsoft enables Office users to create and save in ODF by default as easily and fully as in Microsoft's own formats, governments will continue to adopt a 'buyer beware' attitude,” Marcich said in a statement.

Significantly, Microsoft is not quite ready to give up on its ODF rival, Open XML, that it's been busy railroading through standards bodies across the globe.

Microsoft said its employees would join an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) working group to maintain Open XML, in addition to working to improve interoperability between ODF and Open XML and "other ISO/IEC recognized document formats".

Microsoft said it would also participate in on going standardization and maintenance work around PDF and XPS.

Chris Caposella, senior vice president of the Microsoft Business Division, said in a statement that Microsoft is creating opportunities for developers and competitors, including those in open source, by "increasing the openness of our products and participating actively in the development and maintenance of document format standards."

Microsoft's embrace for ODF comes just two months after Open XML was ratified by the ISO/IEC as a standard.®

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