Open XML, ODF, PDF, and XPS in Office


Clearly the Press Announcement today from Microsoft will bring about another wave of discourse on the future of document formats. The really short version of this announcement is that Office is going to support ODF, PDF, and XPS in the product directly and Microsoft engineers are going to join the OASIS working group on ODF, participate in the future of PDF in AIIM, stay active in the Ecma working group for XPS, and of course, remain active in JTC 1 SC34 where Open XML (and hopefully ODF) will be maintained over time. Also, when released, Office 14 will update the already substantial support for IS29500 in Office 2007.

While this is a big deal announcement for the Office product team (check out Doug Mahugh’s blog), my take on it is predictably focused on the longer-term interoperability factors. Each aspect of the actions being taken by Microsoft fit into a very logical progression.

For years, I have vocally disagreed with the notion of a single document format as being the answer – the oft quoted Highlander line, “there can be only one.” My reason for this is very simple – document formats are representative of the innovation in the applications that use them. If you mandate a single document format – or even worse, a single version of a document format – you are effectively saying that you want to constrain application innovation to the limitations of a given format. I think this is bad news for consumers and producers of technology alike.

There is a continuum of thought related to interoperability reaching back many years based on the growth of Microsoft’s enterprise business, all of which has been affected by the regulatory activity in the U.S. and Europe. This is overlaying the real-world issues customers face as the world continues to progress toward network ubiquity and the desire to exchange an ever-increasing range of data electronically. In particular, governments are pressing hard to realize eGOV scenarios where they are seeking to effectively connect just about every type of information processing technology ever created. Thus, we end up in an ongoing conversation about interoperability.

There are some points to keep in mind when considering the news about the expanded set of document formats in Office.


  1. This is not about any one document format “winning” – it is about enabling customers to evaluate and use document formats that make the most sense for them. Just as the MS deal with JBOSS didn’t mean we were saying that J2 was better than .NET – it is that we want our customers to have the most positive experience possible when using our product.

  2. Nothing in this announcement removes existing commitments regarding document formats. Microsoft will continue to support the open source translator projects. Why? Because we started them in good faith with customers looking to use that mechanism to achieve interop, because other developers are picking up the platform agnostic projects and implementing them, because the collaborative development in the OSS projects has been educational for people on all sides of the interop issue. (Witness the work of DIN – the German national standards body – and their move to have those translation technologies become ongoing work in JTC 1 SC 34 WG6).

  3. The Data Portability aspects to the Interop Principles will continue to move forward. For example, the API that will allow ANY document format to register itself with Office and be set as the default will be made available as planned. Additionally, the work with DAISY and other specialized document formats will move forward as well.

  4. The documentation of client/server protocols for Office-related technologies (such as SharePoint and Exchange/Outlook communications) will remain available to the public.

  5. Microsoft will continue to listen to customers about specifications’ version numbers and look at the practical nature of software implementation as we make decisions about what to implement. Office is NOT implementing ODF 1.0 from ISO. That spec is not representative of the marketplace today, it is not what is implemented in OpenOffice, it is not what IBM is using for Symphony, and it is not referenced in the Massachusetts ETRM policy. We are looking carefully at the business, customers, marketplace and competitive issues for each of the specifications and the MS implementation work will depend on those considerations.

  6. Participating with quality engineering capacity in Open XML, ODF, PDF, and XPS working groups will pay dividends for our customers over time. I know that the skeptics are going to spin theories about MS participation in these groups – but the reality is that we want the specs to continue to improve over time and facilitate interop so that our customers are happy with the value they receive from our solutions. Clearly product competition is always a factor in this discussion, but that is the exact reason standards bodies exist – so all parties (even direct competitors) have a neutral forum in which to work on specifications.

The next 12 to 24 months are going to be extremely telling in the world of document formats. The myopia around the standardization process of Open XML will fade as software producers continue to invest their development budgets in the creation of solutions. The specification itself is only the start; it is the implementations, and the competition in the marketplace of broader solutions that will continue to matter more. In my opinion, the continued interest in innovation presented by those solutions will speak much louder than the formats themselves.

Comments (20)

  1. mat says:

    Is there any chance, that the Mac Office Vesion will get ODF support too?

  2. Earlier today, the Office team announced that Microsoft will expand the range of formats supported in

  3. Today, Microsoft announced support for more document format standards, including ODF, PDF, and XPS. Doug

  4. Stefan says:

    Yes, what about ODF in Mac Office?

  5. Mitch 74 says:

    Aaaah… Great 🙂

    No, really, just great. Microsoft didn’t do much right in my book since the release of SP2 for Windows XP in 2004 for ‘free’ instead of making it a new OS (it contained enough code overhaul to qualify), but this one is great.

    Just one thing: considering ODF doesn’t specify a particular macro language but defines a document object model, will we see the addition of a Starbasic interpreter in Office, or a link with the Jscript engine (for Javascript support), with IronPython (for Python support), or a Perl compatible interpreter?

    Don’t get me wrong: natively supporting ODF 1.1 is great (considering version 1.2 isn’t final yet), I’m merely wondering about details in the implementation.

    Another thing that makes me wonder is, how will the SVG subset of ODF will be supported? Can we expect some form of SVG (and MathML) support in Office 2007, considering those are (as far as I remember) explicitly cited in ODF?

  6. Interesting commentary from Microsoft’s Jason Matusow and Doug Mahugh, and IBM’s Bob Sutor on today’s announcement that Microsoft will support read/write to ODF 1.1 in Office 2007 SP2. Jason writes: "For years, I have vocally disagreed with the notion

  7. Wayne says:

    Jason,

    Several questions:

    1) Will this also affect the next service packs for Office XP and Office 2003?

    2) Which version of the PDF spec will be supported?

    3) Is Microsoft considering support for the Apple IWork formats?

    4) Is Microsoft considering a setting that will allow the user to have Office output multiple formats, i.e. select PDF, MSXML, HTML, and ODF as the formats all documents are to be saved in, and do it with one click?

    5) If 4 is implemented is Microsoft going to add a feature so that Office will not pop up the "Office may not save properly in this format" nuisance box? (You should add this anyway)

    And this one is off-topic, but when are you going to get rid of the damned dog? Your users are smarter than marketing thinks.

    Wayne

  8. hAl says:

    [quote]Another thing that makes me wonder is, how will the SVG subset of ODF will be supported? Can we expect some form of SVG (and MathML) support in Office 2007, considering those are (as far as I remember) explicitly cited in ODF?[/quote]

    ODF does not really support SVG. It has SVG compatible items mostly but also non SVG compatible items. I would not expect documents with drawing stuff in them to be very interoperabel.

    And supporting MathML would be easy as even the current Office version has already got an XSLT schema translator from Office OMML to MathML (of course loosing any other office information within the OMML because MathML cannot handle a mixed format).

  9. Formatele de documente ODF 1.1 (utilizate în OpenOffice sau Symphony) vor fi suportate (read-write) în

  10. Listening to a lot of customer feedback, the Office decided to add additional file formats to the current

  11. Andre says:

    "The next 12 to 24 months are going to be extremely telling in the world of document formats. The myopia around the standardization process of Open XML will fade as software producers continue to invest their development budgets in the creation of solutions. The specification itself is only the start; it is the implementations, and the competition in the marketplace of broader solutions that will continue to matter more. In my opinion, the continued interest in innovation presented by those solutions will speak much louder than the formats themselves."

    Sounds promising and demonstrates the strong public interest in open formats.

  12. free as in free beer says:

    i think the oss problem is just crawling up the big wiggs ass at Microsoft. so they try to reach out to the oss  community aww geez, look guys now your open ofice will work with my new program. your last blog on oss software in supposedly third world nations just shows the ignorance of and plain gal of Microsoft.l to think just because they dont use windows their dumb. the fact is microsoft need to get off their ass and start working on more ways to become compatible with the open source community. not just open office format.

    see for yourself.

    http://blog.milkingthegnu.org/2008/05/microsource.html

    let the revolution begin   OSS  

  13. Mitch 74 says:

    @hAL: about SVG, I know: the syntax used for vector graphics in ODF is merely "SVG-like", not using all object properties and adding some custom ones (but the syntax and most objects still are common). Still, on the whole (and considering the work done on both ODF 1.2 and OOo+forks), SVG support would be quite useful if not necessary (and it could be used to add SVG support to IE, which is a nice plus).

    It could also be used to (later, in Office 14) provide SVG support in OOXML, and at least replace deprecated VML where DrawingML doesn’t cut it – modular design FTW.

    About MathML, I’m not sure an XSLT translator is the best solution, considering how slow XSLT is – native support may help, and provide a more efficient translation.

  14. Did’ya see dat! I am pretty exited about these developments , As soon as these this is out I want to

  15. beqiraj.net says:

    Office 2007 Service Pack 2 will support more file formats

  16. Wesley Parish says:

    I support Wayne’s question on the next service packs for older MS Office releases.  The installed base is huge, and a lot of them aren’t in any hurry to upgrade.  When ODF is the established interoperability document file format and communicating important documents between government and citizen, the installed base will still be huge.

    It would be in Microsoft’s best interests to support ODF for older MS Office releases.

    I can dream, can’t I?

  17. CoolCat says:

    Yeah. Open Microsoft formats……like sharepoint websites. Can only be edited with MS products.

  18. beqiraj.net says:

    Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2) will support more file formats