Programming
Article
By Matthew Magain

Microsoft Wipes Out Open Document Formats

By Matthew Magain

With its announcement on Thursday that it was committed to interoperability, Microsoft successfully sent OpenOffice.org’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 OpenOffice.org 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?

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