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Microsoft's ODF Support Points to OOXML Challenges

Microsoft's plan to include ODF support in its Office suite next year reflects continued challenges for the OOXML file format, as the industry moves ahead with adopting ODF and sorts out OOXML's troubles.

Though OOXML (Open Office XML) was approved by the ISO on April 1, it continues to face impediments to widespread adoption. On Friday, it was revealed that South Africa is appealing ISO (International Organization for Standardization) approval of the standard. And earlier this week, New York state officially promoted ODF (OpenDocument Format) as a standard file format based on customer demand as it launched a new initiative for technology openness and open standards.

"If all that proprietary vendors are waiting for before they directly support ODF is a 'broad based customer request' then they should be aware that such a demand already exists in New York State," according to the report, which has been posted online.

Even Microsoft has delayed full support of the current OOXML specification, yet will support ODF in Office in a service pack to be released early next year, a move the company announced Wednesday. Office will not natively support the current OOXML specification until its next version code-named Office 14, a release date for which has not been announced.

Jay Lyman, an analyst with The 451 Group, said Microsoft coming out in favor of supporting ODF first shows that Microsoft, "is being steered toward greater support for open source, open standards and interoperability" by customers, "which in this case are primarily governments in the U.S. and around the world."

While OOXML will certainly be adopted and used in the future, ODF has a head start because it was approved by the ISO first and is not plagued by lingering questions or doubts about its merit as an international standard.

"Governments that must move now on their format plans are seeing benefits in ODF, which is approved, backed by a number of large vendors and being adopted around the globe," Lyman said.

The decision to appeal casts doubt on OOXML as a viable alternative to the already approved ODF, said Andrew Updegrove, an open-source advocate and attorney with Gesmer Updegrove in Boston. "No one can now say, until this is resolved, that OOXML 'is a global standard,'" he said.

Updegrove also noted that because Microsoft is delaying Office support for OOXML, there is reason to take the appeal very seriously because there is no sense of urgency around resolving it and deploying the format in the near term.

Microsoft declined to comment on South Africa's appeal, saying only that the ISO and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) have a clear process for evaluating and resolving appeals and that the issue remains between them and the South African standards body. The company also promoted its moves toward interoperability in a statement through its public relations firm.

As for New York's decision to promote ODF, Jason Matusow, senior director of interoperability at Microsoft, noted in an e-mail that in the New York study the state calls for technology to be considered on a "value-for-money" basis and that openness is just one consideration among many.

He also said that New York officials recommend that the state legislature "not mandate in statute the use of any specific document creation and preservation technology," implying that it's likely the state will not officially favor ODF over any other file format.

(Peter Sayer in Paris contributed to this report.)

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