I posted an update to this story this morning, which you can find here.
Things are changing very fast in the ODF landscape right now: Last week, Corel announced it would provide limited support by mid-2007 for ODF (open, view and edit of text only – but not save), and greater support for OOXML – presentations and spreadsheets as well as text. Yesterday, Carol Sliwa at ComputerWorld released a detailed story on Microsoft's anti-ODF lobbying in Massachusetts. Later this week, Ecma will formally vote to adopt OOXML and submit it to ISO for consideration (expect things to pick up on a number of fronts when that happens).
And yesterday, Novell announced that it would support OOXML in its version of OpenOffice, to a showing of great hostility by many in the open source community who were already incensed over Novell's recent collaboration agreement with Microsoft (see, for example, Pamela Jones piece at Groklaw, titled Novel "Forking" OpenOffice.org). For a different perspective, see David Berlind's take at ZDNet on the same news.
I don't want to let the Novell announcement go by without comment. At the same time, I don't want to get down into the weeds regarding whether Novell is selling out (and if so, who it is they are selling out, and to what effect), or how this latest decision may factor into the long-term strategy of either Novell or Microsoft, or affect the fortunes of OOXML. Instead, I'd like to put this latest news in the broader context of all of the ODF developments we have witnessed since August a year ago, when Massachusetts announced the inclusion of ODF in the latest version of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model.
If I pan back and look at this series of events, what I see is an inexorable march of progress by ODF, and the Novell announcement as just the latest in a series of concessions to ODF's importance by companies that might otherwise prefer to see it die rather than flourish.
If we look at the Novell press release, for example, here's what we see regarding a few significant points:
Novell is cooperating with Microsoft and others on a project to create bi-directional open source translators for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations between OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office, with the word processing translator to be available first, by the end of January 2007.
The important words I see here are "bi-directional" (as in, you can easily convert Word documents and ODF-based documents back and forth), as well as the news that Novell (unlike Corel) will support document interchange between presentations and spreadsheets as well as text documents. I also see that all of the most important functionality (text) will be available imminently. Next I focus on the following:
The translators will be made available as plug-ins to Novell’s OpenOffice.org product. Novell will release the code to integrate the Open XML format into its product as open source and submit it for inclusion in the OpenOffice.org project. As a result, end users will be able to more easily share files between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org, as documents will better maintain consistent formats, formulas and style templates across the two office productivity suites.
Here, I note that Novell will be making its plugin codes available to the OpenOffice.org open source community, meaning that others can make use of these capabilities. Presumably, with the cooperation of Microsoft, this will allow very high quality document conversions – the next best thing, I assume, to Office supporting ODF itself. Will it support conversion of all 200 Office borders? I expect not, but I'm not too troubled, either (how many borders do you use?)
Is that a fork? It doesn't seem that way to me, and I don't see Microsoft asserting any patents against code that it encourages its partner to contribute to OpenOffice.org. And if no one chooses to use that code in their own ODF compliance software, I don't see that as being problematic, either. It may be that one of the other converters under development may turn out better. Either way, there's no reason for every software package to be identical, or there would be no reason to have multiple versions of software to begin with (or distros of Linux, or, to some extent, open source licenses at all).
But to return to the big picture, what I really see here is a circle of legitimacy of ODF that continues to widen, with more bridges being built all the time between ODF software packages – and more importantly, between ODF-compliant software users and users of other software. More and more vendors are concluding that they can't avoid making ODF functionality available to their customers, and also that they need to make it more and more easy for ODF-formatted documents to coexist easily in a world that is transitioning away from proprietary software and documents based on proprietary formats.
No one could have assumed that we would wake up one day in a world where all software supported ODF. In fact, If you had asked me a year ago where I expected we would be today, I would not have predicted that we would be anywhere near the high water mark of ODF adoption that has been achieved to date.
So no, I can't look at the Novell announcement as being anything other than further good news for ODF. If there are aspects that have negatives (as I realize there are), I see them as temporary holding actions that are not likely to represent permanently defensible positions. The run of the tide is clear, and sand castles never win.
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