David Berlind posted an interesting interview yesterday with Justin Steinman, Novell's director of marketing. In that exchange, David focused particularly on how Novell might (or might not) be asked by Microsoft to help it support ODF at some point in the future. To the extent that Steinman had any actual knowledge on that topic, he not surprisingly declined to show any cards.
Along the way, though, David asked and Steinman answered two interesting questions relating to Novell's own ODF plans. Here's the first, expanding on Novell's statement in its press release that it would offer its conversion code in open source code to OpenOffice.org, as I discussed yesterday:
ZDNet: ...I was looking at the wording of your announcement and trying to better understand exactly what's going on here. Is there going to be some code that opens and closes and saves OO-XML in OpenOffice.org? Is Novell going to develop that code and then contribute all of it [to the OpenOffice.org open source project] so that any OpenOffice.org user can use it the same way, whether it's Novell's version of OpenOffice.org or another one?
Steinman: ...Today we announced new interoperability between OO-XML and OpenOffice.org. What Novell is doing, is we are working with Microsoft to write a 100% — let me stress that: a 100% — open source piece of code. We are going to write that code and we are going to roll it into the Novell version of OpenOffice.org that ships as part of Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop and we are going to contribute 100% of that code back to the open source community for inclusion in the OpenOffice.org mainline project (if the community decides that they want to include it). But, let me be perfectly clear, this is pure GPL code, like everything else we do with the Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop. We're picking what we think is the best of open source that's most relevant to our customers, and distributing it. If the community wants to adopt this OO-XML translator, we would welcome it and applaud it.
Although David didn't mention the continuing hostility of some in the FOSS community to Novell's recent action (the Register.com quotes Bruce Perens calling Novell "the new SCO"), I expect that Steinman's comments are as much in answer to those criticisms as to David's question. Be that as it may, this is solid confirmation that Novell plans to contribute untainted code to OOo. It will be interesting to see whether that project decides to use it, or whether it has something else in the works that it will prefer to use in preference.
The other response by Steinman that I thought was worth noting is this:
ZDNet: Amongst your customers, is ODF getting any traction? Because it was just recently ratified by the International Organisation of Standardization as an official standard and it's sort of ahead of Microsoft's OO-XML in the quote-unquote "standards race."
Steinman: We've got a lot of excitement from customers when it comes to ODF. We are seeing Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop getting deployed in divisions and departments of organizations. We've got pilots up to 500 seats running Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop, and with that they are using OpenOffice.org for their office productivity suite. And, what's the default format there? ODF.
I'll be interested in seeing how this ODF beachhead fares - ironically, with Microsoft's marketing assistance. Hopefully they'll be some press releases from Novell going forward on this topic.
David ends his article with the observation that the joint Corel and Novell announcements will inevitably put additional pressure on Microsoft to offer "bi-directionality" (a new word introduced in the Novell press release that I guess we'll all be using now). He concludes: "I just don't see how the current cost of Microsoft Office is sustainable given the new parity point that seems to be emerging in the productivity area, especially given the whole crop of free Web-based offerings that are flooding the market."
I think he's on target, but we're still pretty early on the timeline. Corel's and Novell's combined sales are small, many of IBM's ODF-supporting products are yet to hit the market, and the other ODF offerings are not yet "bi-directional," either.
But by the end of next year, we'll be looking at a very different situation. And maybe a very different world, and paricularly so if the next twelve months bring as many additional announcements in support of ODF around the world as the last.
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