In the second part of Computerworld's analysis of the Office Open XML debate, platform strategy manager for Microsoft, Sarah Bond, and several Microsoft Gold Partners offer their views on why the OOXML format should become an internationally approved standard.
Multiple standards, ODF and interoperability
One of the main concerns surrounding OOXML, also referred to as Open XML, was that there were not enough technical reasons to justify the adoption of an additional document format standard alongside Open Document Format (ODF), given the potential increase in cost and effort that may be required in order to achieve interoperability within office productivity tools.
Platform strategy manager for Microsoft, Sarah Bond, disagrees that the adoption of an additional document format standard would hinder business practices, stating that the market has already demonstrated a need for multiple formats to address the varying needs of customers
"At Microsoft, our customers have told us their data needs can't be addressed by a one-format-fits-all approach; they want the ability to choose a format with the enhanced features found in Open XML," she said.
According to Bond ODF was designed to meet different needs than Open XML.
"ODF specification is short and simple, but is not optimised for representing the content in existing Microsoft Office documents. The Open XML specification is optimised for the level of precision and detail required to carry forward billions of existing files, including a complete specification for spreadsheet formulas and many other features that are lacking in the ODF specification," she said.
Microsoft believes ODF is a more limited format to Open XML, and that it does not fully support its customer's requirements, "for either backward compatibility or for extensibility, particularly as documents move from a pure publishing tool to participating in business processes".
Bond said that Microsoft has always encouraged third parties to take advantage of the Office platform and build supporting technologies for its products.
"There are no barriers for third parties to create bridges between ODF and Open XML formats and again, we encourage and welcome all competition and cooperation in the use of open, XML-centric documents."
Open XML is platform neutral so that information and documents created by applications on one platform can be used by applications on other platforms. For example, Novell's OpenOffice supports Open XML, and Corel have announced support for it in WordPerfect.
"In complement to this, Microsoft will also sponsor an open source development project on SourceForge to create tools, as well as offer guidance and documentation that will enable users to perform one-way translations of the binary formats to the DIS 29500 (Office Open XML)," Bond said.
Microsoft believes having only one document standard is akin to the world being forced to speak a single language, and that interoperability will always be possible through translators such as SourceForge's open source project. Novell has also released a document format translator for OpenOffice, and is working with Microsoft on similar translators for presentation and spreadsheet formulas.
"There is no single universal solution because no approach will fit the multitude of scenarios for interoperability...multiple languages, like approaches to standards and interoperability, exist today and we can continue to communicate via these translators," Bond said.
Bond points to the examples of Denmark, Switzerland and the State of Massachusetts, who have adopted policies recommending the use of both ODF and Open XML.
"There is also evidence of co-existence already in the marketplace, both in the form of the Open XML - ODF open source translator project supported by Microsoft and many others in the industry, and by the fact that companies such as Novell, Corel, Apple, Xandros and Linspire have either already shipped products that support both formats or have announced an intent to do so," she said.
It is for these reasons that Microsoft believes multiple standards will foster a competitive industry that "meets the real world needs of its customers".