Okay, so using “Word” for this post perhaps is the saddest pun ever, but I couldn’t resist!
For the past few days, news has been spreading around about Microsoft’s new document interoperability lab, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This lab’s purpose is to work on document interoperability, mainly between the Open Document Format and Microsoft’s own Office Open XML document format. This work will focus on getting several documents on a variety of platforms, including most mobile platforms, Windows, MacOS, and Linux.
From the PRNews article, reprinted on Yahoo, “Microsoft believes that the industry has a responsibility to come together to address the interests of users in achieving greater interoperability and effective data exchange between widely deployed document format implementations,” said Jean Paoli. So, basically, that’s whole point of this new lab.
Obvious there is some business benefit for Microsoft, since they are having some trouble getting their OOXML document format approved by the ISO. I could go on and on about how Microsoft should have just gone with the ODF format, but I’ve been through that before. Obviously, they wanted to create their own format to take over ODF before it became too popular, particularly with governments.
Personally, I am not much of a standards geek, as I just want to be able to read documents sent to me by others. Over the past several years, I have owned several mobile devices, three of which were Palm OS, and my current device is a Windows Mobile 5 device. It has been very convenient when working on the road, receiving and sending emails with documents attached. Unfortunately, since I am using a Windows Mobile device, I can not create, send, or receive ODF or OOXML documents. I have been denied access to use OOXML on my device, all due to it being an earlier build of WM 5. Hopefully an ODF converter will make it’s way to Windows Mobile. Not being able to work with ODF has always been a problem with my Windows Mobile and Palm devices.
This document incompatibility shows it’s ugly side when you can’t open files from other people using another piece of software. This is why I do not believe taking on a large task such as creating OOXML was really worth the effort. Creating a new document format in the face of another format perfected for the job at hand, reinforced the beliefs of many that Microsoft wants to control all of the standards they use. Strangely enough, if they had chosen to use ODF, it would have helped their ailing PR by showing people that they are indeed interested in making document compatibility a true focus. That decision would most certainly be more consumer-friendly than adding in the OOXML format, or a piece rather, into Office 2007, causing confusion with consumers about whether or not others can read their documents.
Microsoft claims that ODF does not have enough functionality to use in Office. This claim is obviously false, seeing as several other office programs use ODF or have ODF functionality. They also claim that multiple standards provide “consumer choice.” Unfortunately, that choice is which format to use, and that provides yet another level of confusion for end consumers. If Microsoft had chosen to use, or at least include ODF in Office 2007 instead of using OOXML would have given Microsoft a much needed PR boost by making a consumer oriented decision. Had that been their decision, they could have focused on building Microsoft Office, making it better than the competition.