ODF Wins the Office Document Format War?

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Good news for those of you who have been following the XML office document standards battle. Microsoft today announced that Office 2007 will support ODF (Open Document Format), the document standard used by OpenOffice.org and other open source productivity suites, with the release of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2, due sometime in early 2009.

Even more surprising, however, was the corollary to the announcement. While the Office programmer bees are busy buzzing away at ODF, OOXML (Office Open XML) is being put on the back burner. Don't expect Office to support a fully ISO-compliant version of OOXML until the next major release of the suite, currently codenamed Office 14, release date unknown.

Exactly why Microsoft is backpedaling its support for OOXML is not known. But open standards maven Andy Updegrove blogs that it may have something to do with Microsoft's current regulatory troubles in Europe and with the standards bodies that now govern OOXML. It appears likely that Microsoft actually can't implement a fully-compliant version of the standard just yet.

Instead, according to reports, users of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 will have the option to make ODF the default file format for word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents, the same way they can choose Office 2003 or several other formats. Office users can already import and export ODF files using third-party filters, but it doesn't make sense when only a small number of users have installed the filters or even know that they exist. Having support for ODF "baked in" to the Office suite will mean that everyone will be able to save and access these files with no extra effort.

Any way you slice it, this is a big step toward shaking off Microsoft's dominance of the office software market and ensuring that we can all preserve our files for years to come.

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