What’s Wrong With Choice?
Brian Jones of Microsoft feels that the storm of publicity about shortcomings in OOXML is largely due to IBM investing its money and time in developing the expertise to consult for ODF-using products.
IBM has a lot of money in the game banking on ODF, and my guess is that there is a lot of fear on their side that if there are alternatives to ODF they will lose.
He says that he really stands for choice. In fact, he wants the end-user and the developer to be able to choose freely whether to support ODF or OOXML or perhaps even both.
Choice is a good thing, and that’s what we are trying to promote…. I keep dying to ask IBM, "if you really think ODF is the best solution, why does it matter so much if Open XML also co-exists as an ISO standard? What are you afraid of?"
Mr. Jones, if you really care about choice, implement ODF as a fully-native peer to OOXML and automatically download it in the next batch of updates, rather than using a partially-functional plug-in that has to be searched out and then downloaded. Or is it really Microsoft that is afraid?
Let's be honest here. According to your latest Form 10-Q, Office is 90% of the revenue of Microsoft Business Division, which is in turn one of the three profitable segments in the company. Both of the other two segments related directly to the Windows operating systems ("Client" & "Server"). MBD is able to charge a pretty high price for its products. If there was a fully-level playing field—a standardized file format for the industry that almost anyone could implement—that would directly threaten Office & MBD. Losing dominance with Office would in turn threaten the Client segment, because users would be free to utilize whatever operating system(s) met their needs without being risking being unable to share office documents with others.
XBox, Zune, Origami, MSN/Live are all money-losers. That they still exist at all is due primarily to the huge sums that come in from Windows and Office. So what happens if suddenly Office and then the client part of Windows become flaccid? Will you still be able to satisfy?
In other words, I think it is clear that Microsoft Business Division is afraid that they will lose this one.
Now, I will be the first to admit that the best office suite I have ever used was WordPerfect version 7. In almost ten years of searching, I have never found another product (not even another version of WP) that had the functionality, simplicity, and reliability that WP 7 had. That is why I actually wrote to Corel, asking them to implement full read-write ODF functionality in their products.
Still, Microsoft's office suite (at least up to version 2003) was always decent, even if it has an annoying tendency to try to run the user's life instead of letting the user be in control. StarOffice 5.1 and 5.2 were hideous, awful little programs that fought to constrain users to a desktop that was fully-contained inside of the office suite. Later versions of StarOffice and its twin OpenOffice.org are very much like Microsoft Office, only less annoying.
What is the point? Simply this: given a choice, some users will indeed abandon Microsoft for competing vendors. Some will not. I do not foresee Office becoming irrelevant any time soon, nor would I want it to do so. As a user and technician, it is beneficial to me when competition increases, but not when once-major players are knocked out of the market. I want to see Microsoft, Corel, Sun, IBM, and other vendors (such as Software 602 or MicroVision Development) competing to give me the best possible product (and face it, Office 2003 was not your best effort) at the best possible price, with nearly full fidelity in moving documents between people who may be using a competing application.
So, Brian, do you really care about choice? Prove it to me. Instead of a halfway-functional plug-in that has to be searched out and downloaded, have your team write fully-native ODF support and download it as an automatic update to Office XP (2002) and later. Make sure that it is placed as an equal peer with OOXML in your "Save As" dialog. And take all of these secret quirks (do this the way Word 95 did) and plainly specify what was done, then issue a pledge that everything necessary to implement OOXML in any application whatsoever is perpetually guaranteed to be free for anyone to implement in any way they wish at any time, whether they use Windows, Linux, Solaris, BSD, or some home-brewed system they cooked up themselves.
Or maybe you are afraid of something…