ODF's doomed mission to break into Microsoft Office
What would you do?
Could Microsoft's Office team learn a thing or two from those building Internet Explorer and Windows? Depends on what's at stake - and to what extent they're forced to act.
This week, Microsoft rolled out the Windows browser ballot screen it agreed to during antitrust settlement talks with European regulators and competitors. The ballot screen is designed to let Windows 7 customers pick the browser they want, rather than simply giving them Microsoft's IE out of the box with Microsoft's operating system.
Meanwhile, the Office 2010 team is offering a ballot window of its own in the Office 2010 Release Candidate. This screen lets you decide whether you want to save your documents using the Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) formats or the more generally accepted XML-based Open Document Format (ODF).
But the Office screen has rankled some ODF and open-source supporters. They don't like the wording on the ballot or the positioning of the options. OOXML is on top, as the first option. And the ODF option says: "Many features of Microsoft Office are supported by ODF but some content or editability may be lost on save."
The wording may well be an accurate depiction of the true state of affairs in Office, given Microsoft said last year it would give minimal play to ODF in its suite. Open sourcers have read it as a warning against using ODF, which hasn't gone down well. You can see the screen here.
Free-Software-Foundation president Richard Stallman has told Neowin that the Office ballot screen is designed to actually deter potential users from using ODF. Stallman concludes Microsoft is simply going through a pretense - to be able to say it offers ODF support.
ODF managing director Marino Marcich pointed to a bigger issue, saying a ballot screen is meaningful only if the ODF implementation is "complete, current, and interoperable with other ODF applications."
Marcich has a point. Anything else would be like Windows only partly working with Safari 4, Chrome, Firefox 3, or Opera 10.
These browsers do work on Windows, a fact that's reflected in the wording in the new Windows browser ballot screen used to describe each browser. The wording is brief, it's egalitarian, and it makes no negative judgments. On the contrary, it veers into up-sell territory.
We can only speculate about why Microsoft has stumbled on Office.
Maybe Microsoft was too honest for its own good in pointing out to users the limitations of ODF in Office. Or maybe it just doesn't want you to use ODF.
It's probably a case of the latter given the minimal mention ODF garnered in Microsoft's public undertaking on interoperability in Office last year. That commitment came after it lost a case, originally brought by Sun Microsystems, claiming Microsoft had hurt the competition by withholding Windows client protocols
All things being unequal
It took the might of an regulatory probe to force Microsoft's hand on the IE browser ballot in Windows: first to get the screen and then to have the ballot screen shaped to the linking of competitors Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software. Yet the Office ballot screen seems to have come up short despite being the result of similar regulatory and legal pressures.
Given Microsoft's underlying ethos is to optimize its runtimes - Windows, Office, SharePoint, Silverlight, Internet Explorer and so on - for the Windows "experience" in order to convince people to pick its products, an equal footing for ODF in Office is unlikely (either at a technical level or in the theatrical billing of the Office ballot screen). OOXML is an extension of this. It's an Office-rich XML-based format designed to deliver a Microsoft-centric productivity experience straddling Office, SharePoint, and other Microsoft software.
Would it take fresh regulatory pressure on Microsoft this time? Possibly. Microsoft is within its rights to support ODF as much - or a little - as it wants in Office. And so far, it has proved it's wiling to not just do the least possible, but come up with its own alternative - an option proponents of ODF probably least expected and an option that has left them irked. ®
But OOXL is an ISO Standard!
That would be the one where MS stuff the voting process.
Perception has a lot to do with this.
If I save in ODF will the person who I email have it as well?
Note I *had* to do a recent format conversion between in OO from WinWord 97 to Win03 in XML The complex stuff worked out but the tabs on the first few lines were stuffed.
MS support for a true open standard will *always* be grudging unless forced by a govt. That on its own will spread a lot of FUD amongst casual users.
Organizations *have* to start thinking that whoever controls the data formats they use controls *them* in terms of their upgrade paths, when and how much they spend. This is what Bill Gates understood. Grab them by the data files and their wallets will come right along afterward. Forever.
Industry doesn't work like that. If it did then there would have been no point in Microsoft bribing ISO to rubber-stamp its half-arsed XML format.
Microsoft make it their business to ensure that everyone else is competing with both their hands tied behind their backs. It is Microsoft who have spent decades running as far and as fast as possible from anything that allows users a choice on merit.
If it hadn't, then it would have been dead and buried after the successive loads of crap that were Windows v1, 2, and 3, all of which sucked compared to alternatives available at the time.
MS is not a company that competes - its first and only reaction is always to find a way to lock out any threat, even if doing so is illegal, unethical, or screws over their own customers.
Ah, yes, the Windows "experience"
They've spent almost three decades, promising this "experience", haven't they? All the way from the days of OLE DB, through MDAC and COM ("Everyone stay COM and no one will get hurt" - what a lie that proved to be). All we really got was a spaghetti soup of acronyms-de-jour, from a guy who seemed to have gotten hold of a tin full of 'M's and 'S's. Each year, a new acronym. Just tell your boss that the reason last year's "solution" didn't work, was because they weren't using the latest acronym.
There are IT managers who have built entire careers out of selling next year's acronym. (Open sourcers come up with gimpy names for their products and then carry on using them for half a century, but Microsoft people come up with gimpy products, and then rename them every autumn.)
Buying into the Windows "experience" actually turned out to be a bit like inadvertently buying something from the USSR: suddenly, everything's fine - but only as long as you buy everything else from the USSR. (The overall experience, is a bit like living in the 1960s, of course, but as long as all your tractors come from Factory 9, and your combine harvesters come from Factory 12, and your cars are made in Building 24, then the tools, that you bought from Bureau 61, will still kind of work okay with all of them.)
Just don't, for God's sake take a look at any of that stuff from the 'free' world, because that stuff is Cancer.