Microsoft promises ODF support in Office 2007 SP2, kinda sorta

Earlier this week, Microsoft released technical documents describing how it plans to implement support of the Open Document Format (ODF) within Office 2007 Service Pack 2, expected to ship in 2009. These specs were intended to help third-party Office developers work with SP2. But Microsoft included so many caveats of ODF support that the ultimate results could be iffy indeed, reports TGdaily:

"Microsoft does caveat their full acceptance of the standards body governing ODF, however. They state, '1) When implementing a standard, an implementer may find the text ambiguous or more permissive than is appropriate for that particular implementation,' and '2) File format standards typically allow additional application-specific information (such as certain user customizations) to be written to the file,' and '3) With every application there may be instances where an implementer cannot follow the standard exactly for one reason or another. For example, general industry practice may differ from what is in the specification or users may have made clear that they need something different,' according to the press release."

In other words, Microsoft is hinting that its implementation of ODF might not produce documents that work seamlessly with other ODF-compliant applications. If you want an idea of how Microsoft may diabolically do such a thing, take a look at how today's Office documents produce HTML. Is it HTML code? Yes. Can it be read by browsers? Mostly -- but it is so loaded with formatting garbage that documents often have problems displaying properly. Similar idiosyncrasies with Internet Explorer have caused Web designers unending agony.

On the one hand, the caveats are not surprising, given how ugly a fight Microsoft put up in resistance to ODF -- a standard that was created by its competitors to knock MS Office from its monopoly status. Microsoft used an old standards body tactic and created its own competing standard in the form of Office Open XML and then spearheaded an effort to ramrod OOXML through two standards bodies, seriously damaging the standards process along the way. If Microsoft was just going to do the right thing and support ODF, it didn't need all the drama associated with OOXML.

On the other hand, at this point you would think that Microsoft would know better than to drag its feet or otherwise play games over implementing ODF. Microsoft promised in May to support ODF and Adobe PDF file formats. It has since increasingly shown a better understanding that its future health lies in befriending the open source movement -- rather than being its front-and-center enemy. At the same time, MS Office is under pressure from cloud service providers and open source implementations. Enterprise users will willingly stick with MS Office unless Microsoft's contempt for them and the changing market drives them to try competing -- and far less expensive -- products.

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