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 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.”

Doug writes:

“Third-party translators. We anticipate that some developers may want to take over the default ODF load and save paths, so that they can plug in their own translators for ODF, and we’ll be providing an API in SP2 that enables this scenario. This means that if a developer disagrees with the details of our approach and would like to implement ODF for Office in a different way, they’re free to do so and can set it up such that when a user opens an ODT attached to an email or from their desktop, it will be loaded through their ODF code path.”

Bob writes:

“ODF has made tremendous strides over the years but a lingering question has always been “What about Microsoft?”. Despite gestures involving converters and because of their heavy handed promotion of their own alternative OOXML/Open XML format, the ODF victory did feel like it was getting closer but was still tantalizingly in the future.”

I would generally agree with Jason’s views that a “there can be only one” approach is a losing strategy for software vendors. However, I think there’s a difference in choice of implementation and the products delivered on top vs. a choice of the underlying standards themselves. I want choices in the mobile phones/PDAs I can purchase; I don’t want to choose between GSM and CDMA. I want choices in the high definition DVDs that I can purchase; I don’t want to choose between HD DVD and BluRay. I want choices in the websites that I visit or the browser I use to visit them; I don’t want to choose between TCPIP and something else. On the other hand, Jason’s view on constraining innovation based on the format selected does have merit. Tough call…at least for me on this one.

I do like that Microsoft is going to allow other ODF translators to replace the native translator. Good to see Microsoft becoming more open every day.