Updated: A story on a press event was posted at a Chinese site (in Chinese) on July 22. I've run it through the Babelfish translator, and you can get the gist of the story at this page. I am told by someone local that the story summarizes a high-level meeting at the EIOffice, with representatives of both SAC (the standards National Body for China) and CESI, as well as representatives from many other government agencies, all there to recognize the release of the first office suite to fully support UOF. The story also reports on various agencies that have announced that they will be converting to the new EIOffice 2009 product.
Long time followers of the ODF-OOXML story will recall that there is a third editable, XML-based document format in the race to create the documentary record of history. That contender is called UOF - for Uniform Office Format, and it has been under development in China since 2002, although I first heard and wrote about it back in November of 2006. Last summer, UOF was adopted as a Chinese National Standard, and last Friday the first complete office suite based upon UOF was released. It's called Evermore Integrated Office 2009 (EIOffice 2009 for short), and here's the story.
According to an English language article posted at the Interfax-China site today, EIOffice 2009 was developed by Chinese software vendor Evermore Software Co. Ltd. And while that name may not ring a bell outside of China, apparently it carries weight in Chinese government procurement circles. According to someone identified in the article as "an Evermore PR manager, who wished to remain anonymous," Evermore products, "have occupied the largest proportion of government purchases of office software in recent years."
On the other hand, the same source stated that EIOffice 2009 "has more features than Microsoft Office," which hardly sounds likely, given that Office has more features than most ordinary users are ever likely to stumble on (let alone use) in one lifetime. That said, the new suite claims to be ahead of Office 2007 in one more specific respect. According to Interfax, EIOffice 2009 is compatible with ODF as well as OOXML files. (Details on how difficult that might have been to achieve can be found here). In contrast, Office 2007 will not natively support ODF until the release of a service pack in the first half of 2009.
While Evermore may not cost Microsoft many sales in the West, it could prove to be a formidable opponent in what I expect will evntually be the largest market for desktop software in the world - China, with its 1.3 billion citizens. China is determined to promote its own software industry, and Evermore will also have a distinct price advantage, at least relative to Microsoft's standard list prices. The top edition of EIOffice 2009 will sell for RMB 1,198 ($174.92), as compared to the RMB 4,902 ($717.83) price in China for Microsoft's professional Office 2007 edition. Ironically, the crackdown on piracy in China that western governments and software vendors have long been calling for is now taking increasing effect - just in time to make such price differentials significant.
Small wonder then that the same spokesperson says that Evermore is, "confident that our EIOffice 2009 will be well received by users in the government and education sectors." That mention of educational sectors is particularly interesting, given that Microsoft has already given so much ground in China that it recently announced that it would sell copies to Chinese students of both Windows and the student edition of Office together for the incredibly low price of $3.00. Perhaps Evermore is willing to undercut even that almost non-existent price to land educational customers.
How big a threat will EIOffice 2009 be to Office? That's an interesting question. Interfax tapped a non-Evermore source for an opinion on that subject as follows:
Professor Ni Guangnan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) and proponent of open source software, told Interfax that with China's massive customer base for office software, UOF will beat OOXML to be a global standard for Chinese language documents if the government gives enough support.
Ni said that the development of UOF will provide Chinese users with more choice and encourage domestic software developers to break Microsoft's leading position in China.
And there could be other factors to take into account as well. The Chinese government has been playing a skillful game of cat and mouse with Microsoft since last year. And it's clearly no coincidence that on July 11, Evermore Vice President Cao Shen called for Microsoft to be the first target for China's new anti-monopoly law, which will take effect in ten days' time. Whether Shen is speaking to, or for, the government, of course, remains to be seen.
This is not an isolated expression of displeasure with a foreign vendor over a standards-related commercial battle in China. I have noted several recent standards-related articles at Xinhau, the official Chinese news service, that have been unusually hostile not only towards Microsoft, but other western vendors as well, such as Nokia (this time with respect to 3G wireless standards - and perhaps good news for Google and Apple). And then there is the WiFi - WAPI face off, which refuses to die. WAPI installations, a well as China's home-grown TD-CDMA 3G wireless standard will both be given high profile exposure during the Olympic games
All in all, it appears that athletics will not provide the only contest in Beijing in August. Another struggle of Olympian proportions - with far more gold to be won - is about to begin there as well. And while the government may not be able to influence what happens on the playing fields, it is determined not to come home empty handed when it comes to standards.
Updated 9:30 EDT July 22: In looking for more news about on EIOffice 2007, I see that Evermore has a reasonably comprehensive English language Web site. Unfortunately, the most recent press release to be found there was issued in 2004, and the information on their office suite relates to the pre-UOF product (EIOffice 2007), there's still quite a bit of interest to be found. For starters, the description of the product makes no bones about the inspiration for it's design, using the heading, "The Classic Look and Feel of Microsoft Office" for the following:
There is no need to learn entirely new ways of being productive with EIOffice, it has the look and feel with which you are already familiar.
Toolbars, Menus, Quick Keys and Dialog Boxes are all based on work patterns with which you are already familiar. No extra training is needed which switching from more expensive less integrated Office Suites to EIOffice.
At Evermore Software we revolutionized the conventional Office Suite file and data structure - making it easier to work with and share data between documents - but we understand end users don't need, or want to, re-learn simple tasks. We made a conscious decision to keep what works and what people are already familiar with. With no extra training needed, you save time and money.
The site also provides additional information about the company, which self-describes itself as "China's leading developer of Office software." More concretely, it relates that:
A joint venture between the Wuxi New District Economic Development Corporation and American investors, Evermore Software was founded in 2000 and currently employs over 400 world-class software engineers. Evermore Software is one of the largest independent Java developers in the world and the biggest single project software development team in China.
With a primary research facility in the city of Wuxi, Evermore Software is committed to the development of innovative Office software. It brings together the best technical and management solutions that the East and West have to offer.
There is also further data about EIOffice, including the fact that it was first released in 2002, that it is written in Java, and that it runs on multiple operating systems: Linux, Windows and Macintosh. More detailed product information of the earlier version can be found here.
While there does not appear to have been a great detail of coverage of EIOffice in its prior releases, you can find articles on each on the Web. Samples can be found here (EIOffice 2003), here (EIOffice 2004) and here (EIOffice 2007).
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