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Domino theory - Microsoft and standard document formats

This is all so painfully predictable...

The state's point of view is perfectly reasonable. Long-lived public documents should not be in proprietary formats. There now exists a functional, clearly defined standard for the most common office documents. There is one excellent implementation (OpenOffice/StarOffice). Pragmatically this is an excellent time for the state to push for standard formats.

Microsoft's point of view - at least on the marketing/sales side - is perfectly understandable. As long as customers feel locked in by proprietary formats, Microsoft stands a better chance of maintaining their dominance in the market.

Microsoft Blasts Massachusetts' New XML Policy > September 2, 2005 While any company can adopt the royalty free standard, Microsoft will not support OpenDocument in its next version of Office 12 because it is an inferior file format and is not compatible with older versions of Office, one Microsoft executive said this week after the report was released. Office 12 is due next year.

"No," said Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft's Information Worker Business Strategy, when asked by CRN about the potential for Office to support OpenDocument. "The Office "12" formats pay special attention to compatibility with older document versions, [and] other formats do not concern themselves with this important issue," Yates said.

Further, he added, "this proposal acknowledges that Open Document does not address pictures, audio, video, charts, maps, voice, voice-over-IP, and other kinds of data our customers are increasingly putting in documents and archiving."

If you look at things from just the right point of view the statement from the Microsoft guy is (strictly speaking) correct. Looked at on a practical basis, the statement is completely irrelevant. The vast, overwhelming majority of office documents - probably well over 99% - are only very simply formatted, and the OASIS standard is more than adequate. So on a pragmatic basis - moving to the standard format will cause only minor and temporary discomfort for users.

In addition the amount of work needed by Microsoft to support reading and writing of the standard formats is very small. There are no significant technical obstacles. Once motivated, Microsoft could put out an update with support for standard formats inside a month or two.

If the state dropped Word and Excel, it would impact many VARs and solutionproviders in the Bay state. "It's an interesting issue, and we'd definitely have to add OpenDocument formatting to our regular business processes," said Mike Healey, president of TENCorp, a VAR in Needham, Mass. that does business with local governments and schools. "We, like everyone else, just use Microsoft or PDF formatting. "

This - of course - cuts to the heart of the matter. The dominos just might start falling....