Microsoft Wipes Out Open Document Formats

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With its announcement on Thursday that it was committed to interoperability, Microsoft successfully sent’s OpenDocument formats to an early grave, presenting its own file formats as the industry standard that everyone should support.

OK, so Microsoft’s .doc, .xls and .ppt file formats for word processor documents, spreadsheets and presentations are pretty much the de facto standard these days already. But with Steve Ballmer and Ray Ozzie’s statement that Microsoft would be opening up the technical specifications defining these file formats, Microsoft has taken a big step in consolidating them as the industry standard for exchanging data.

Much of the news commentary last week was focused on the statement that Microsoft explicitly would not sue open source developers for connecting to Microsoft software. But the bigger story here, in my mind, is the fact that by explicitly making these APIs freely available, Microsoft are essentially turning their own file formats into standards, removing any real reason to keep open document formats such as the OASIS consortium’s Open Document Format (the default file format used by the suite) alive at all.

A bunch of questions come to mind, including this: just how far is Microsoft prepared to go in making its specifications available to developers? (only about 30 of the promised 30,000 documents have been made available so far). Will it just be the bare minimum for us to get things done, or is this interoperability commitment the real deal? And after opening up the protocol, is open-sourcing the code behind any of Microsoft’s applications the next logical step?

What do you think? Is Microsoft’s interoperability commitment a fluffy PR-move without substance, or is it a realization that openness is critical in order to survive? And does ODF stand any chance, at all?

Matthew MagainMatthew Magain
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Matthew Magain is a UX designer with over 15 years of experience creating exceptional digital experiences for companies such as IBM, Australia Post, and He is currently the Chief Doodler at Sketch Group, Co-founder of UX Mastery, and recently co-authored Everyday UX, an inspiring collection of interviews with some of the best UX Designers in the world. Matthew is also the creator of Charlie Weatherburn and the Flying Machine.

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