Has Microsoft said "Never!" on OpenDocument? No - the prospects for future OpenDocument support are a matter of "evaluating the flow of customer requirements."
Has Microsoft drawn a line in the sand on OpenDocument support? I had thought so when I wrote the Feature Article for the September issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin. Among other things, Mike Pryke-Smith, Microsoft Office marketing manager, had been quoted in June stating that Microsoft would not open its formats up to a standards body, citing backwards compatibility issues as a reason for wanting to keep formats under its control.
But apparently there is some flexibility on OpenDocument, and in truth Pryke-Smith made this point last June in the same Computer Business News Online article just mentioned, which includes the following:
Pryke-Smith said Microsoft would not be adopting OpenDocument, citing backwards compatibility concerns, but did say the company will watch to see how adoption of the standard develops. “We’ll respond to customer demand on that,” he said. “Our main focus is serving our existing customer base.”
Of course, that article was written when Microsoft was still expecting its XML Reference Schema to be acceptable to Massachusetts, so it was an easy remark to make when there was no immediate crisis on the horizon.
But how about now? If Microsoft wanted to intimidate others from following Massachusetts’ lead, one might expect that it would now be saying, “no way, never.”
But no. It seems that “wait and see” is still Microsoft’s stated policy, meaning that it is keeping a back door open to the possibility of supporting OpenDocument in the future.
Where do I get that? Nick Tsilas, a Senior Attorney at Microsoft I know, corrected me on this, emailing me about ten days ago as follows:
Andy, this is not accurate. I think what we have said is that features are dictated by customer demand and, until the Massachusetts-related activity occurred, Open Document was not even on our radar screens.
I later got back to Nick, and asked him whether he could confirm that this is current Microsoft policy. In an email on which he copied Microsoft General Manager of Information Worker Business Strategy Alan Yates(I had earlier interviewed Alan in connection with the article), Nick replied:
Yes– I can confirm that the [above] is the company position. For us this has been, and will continue to be a matter of evaluating the flow of customer requirements, and this is a new issue. For example, while the timing may be suspect to some, our pdf development was the result of evaluating customer requirements.
So there is no line drawn in the sand, nor (to put it another way) has Microsoft painted itself into a corner. If OpenDocument picks up steam, a back door for support is ajar.
How far? That I don’t know. But Sun, IBM, and others are certainly keeping the heat on on Microsoft, trying to help the OpenDocument train gather momentum. Ever since the Massachusetts decision became public, announcement after announcement has issued, from Sun’s public commitment at the end of September not to assert any Sun patent underlying OpenDocument, to the announcement earlier today by OASIS, the Open Source Initiative and SchoolForge UK that they had formed an Open Document Fellowship to promote the format and to vouch for the degree of OpenDocument support that various products may offer [Correction: although it had been reported at the time that I posted this entry that OASIS was a founder, OASIS Media Relations Coordinator Carol Geyer clarified the next day that OASIS was not a founder].
How much public support (or, more to the point, how much potential for lost business) would it take to bring Microsoft on board ? On that one, you and I will just have to wait and see.