Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Microsoft Does About Face on ODF and PDF

Maybe Microsoft was having a "DF" day - as they did a 180 on their stance of supporting both ODF (Open Document Format) and PDF (Portable Document Format) in Office.

You see, ODF is the file format of OpenOffice and StarOffice - competitors to the 800 pound gorilla - Microsoft Office. So, rather than agreeing to support the ODF (which is already an ISO standard) - Microsoft fought to get their own file format (OOXML - Office Open XML) approved as an ISO standard as well. Which they managed to do (on April 1, 2008 - April FOOL'S DAY!) - although there are some grumblings and upcoming challenges to the ISO board by South Africa and others.

Seems MS didn't want to give people using - *gasp* - free Office-like tools the ability to actually interoperate with folks who ponied up the cash for the "real" Office suite.

Then, they went ahead and did the same thing with PDF. Seems that MS is not really that fond of paying royalties to others for their technologies - and Adobe really started to piss them off with their demands for revenue and their AIR/Flex/Flash suite. So, Microsoft came up with its own XML Paper Specification (XPS) as a result.

No, really - they did.

Good idea! Let's re-invent yet another standard - and make it Windows-only! Brilliant!

They did the same kind of thing with C# - it's basically a direct rip-off of Java - that they did for the same reason - lock developers into a Windows-only environment. They also didn't like the fact that they wanted to "extend the standard" Java - but not through plug-ins or just extra jar files (like everyone else) - but they wanted to muck with the core and Sun said no.

So, Microsoft just took their dollies and went home and came up with C#.

Now, it looks like Microsoft's changed their minds - and has agreed to support both ODF and PDF in their Service Pack 2 release that is due in the first half of 2009.

Are they just feelin' groovy? Has the voice of reason and not fear been heard in the hallowed halls? Maybe.

However, I think it has more to do with New York state officially promoting ODF as a standard file format based on customer demand as it launched a new initiative for technology openness and open standards earlier this week. I think that Microsoft is finally seeing the writing on the wall: "If we don't support these standards that were created by the other (explicative) vendors - we'll be screwed by local, state and (eventually) the feds."

Read my lips: your bloatware isn't the only game in town anymore. People will not keep paying $500 a throw for it forever.

Microsoft needs to get over their "not invented here" syndrome and knock down some of those interoperability walls. They should be the best integrator of the best-of-breed technologies that people are already using.

For example, the default format for stuff on the Mac is PDF. It just saves it that way by default, not as an after thought, or as a type of printer or any of that nonsense. This simple ability to save in PDF allows Mac users to share stuff and email/post/share content right away. That's part of their their competitive advantage and is just part of the whole ease-of-use thing.

I must admit that this is a good first step for Microsoft - and I hope we'll see see them take the lead in integrating standards rather than re-inventing the wheel for everything.

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