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.

InfoWorld reports:

“IBM is to offer the world a free word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program in yet another bid to upset the dominance of Microsoft’s Office suite.

IBM says it will contribute 35 programmers to the Symphony-cum-OpenOffice development effort….”

The Lotus Symphony FAQ states:

“Lotus Symphony is based on the Open Document Format (ODF) standard-which means you’re not locked into proprietary file formats, software licensing agreements and upgrades”

Lotus Symphony products are standalone versions of products that are being bundled in Lotus Notes 8, and are built from OpenOffice technology.

The download process requires that users enter an IBM developerWorks or PartnerWorld ID. I know this sucks, and we deal with this issue when users want to download WAS Community Edition. However, we’re required to adhere to export laws, exclude downloads to embargoed countries (i.e. North Korea), and IBM’s legal team is a little more cautious when distributing OSS-based products for some reason ;-).

I just read the JS post about the continuing rise of OpenOffice.org.

Why do vendors like Sun, IBM (officially now), Google, etc. support OO.o? Well, providing customer choice and openness are two of the key reasons quoted. These are definitely great reasons that we all want to see OO.o succeed.

Most vendors backing OO.o compete with Microsoft in markets other than Office Productivity software. So, what about the competitive benefits for vendors supporting OO.o? Let’s face it, $1 diverted from MS Office could become $0.70 diverted from the budgets of Microsoft’s other business units.

Here’s a look at Microsoft’s 2006 FY financials by reporting division:

– MS Office is inside of “Information Worker”
– MS Windows Client operating systems are inside of “Client”
– MS Windows Server operating systems are inside of “Server & Tools”
– MS SQL Server is inside of “Server & Tools”
– MS Ad revenue is inside of “MSN”

When you look at the operating margins of Microsoft’s business units, it’s quite easy to see why attacking MS Windows profits with Linux and MS Office profits with OO.o is the strategy of choice for vendors that compete with MS in other markets.

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

In doing a literature review about 6 months ago, I read about research that Gordon Bell was doing at Microsoft. His team is working on MyLifeBits, a project that aims to digitize and store *all* the information one interacts with in her/his daily life. It’s supposed to be a fulfillment of Vannevar Bush’s vision from 1941! (That’s a pic of him from wikipedia).

One of Bell’s papers mentioned the challenge of not just digitizing and storing the information, but ensuring that the data could be readable in the future. As Bell states:

“The most serious impediment to a lasting archive is the evolution of media, platforms, formats, and the applications that create them. Unique, proprietary, and constantly evolving data formats such as Acrobat-4, MPEG-4, Oracle 8, Quicken 2001, Real G2, and Word 2000 suggest or even guarantee obsolescence.”

After reading the paper from 2001 I was fairly certain that I could find files on my hard drive from 2001 or earlier, that I could no longer open because of format & application version compatibility issues. And that was only 5 years ago, what about in 50 years?

Vint Cerf (of Google) also mentioned the problem of orphaned data as a result of filetype/application evolution when he spoke at the University of Toronto in late 2006.

Open formats to the rescue?
Jonathan uses a great example to make the case for ODF (which I know Bob Sutor and many others have been making for quite some time). The plug-in that Jonathan mentions sounds like a great idea; and maybe a reason for this Microsoft funded project to shut down :-)

Open formats can minimize the likelihood of orphaned data. But, your application of choice needs to implement the open format before you can open that 50 year old file (50 yrs from now). If your application of choice is an open source application, and just one other technically inclined person has the need to open a file of the same filetype, you should be in luck.