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Microsoft can’t support Open XML

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Microsoft did everything it could to make its Open XML pseudo document standard an official ISO standard. Fight, cheat, whatever it took. Nothing was too low. And, at the end, Microsoft won. Too bad after all that, Microsoft can’t even get their ‘standard’ to work in their own products.

No, I’m not making that up. As reported on May 21st in SD Times, Microsoft confessed that they can’t get Office 2007 to support the version of Open XML that ISO just approved. That’s right. Microsoft can’t even support its own standard.

If your heart was setting on using this Microsoft fantasy for your documents, you’ll need to wait until sometime in the first half of 2009 when Office 14 may show up. It might also be supported in a service patch to Office 2007 at around the same time.

Words almost fail me. What a joke. All along critics of Microsoft’s standard were saying that it would be impossible for anyone outside of Microsoft to support this multi-thousand page standard, and now we find out that Microsoft can’t even do it themselves. Tell me, what kind of standard is it anyway that doesn’t even exist in a working model?

You know what the cherry on top of the sundae is? Microsoft, starting with the Office 2007 SP 2, will be offer native support for ODF (Open Document Format) 1.1, PDF 1.5, and PDF/A (PDF/Archive). So, tell me what was the point behind pushing Open XML and Metro, Microsoft’s anti-PDF format, in the first place?

The original answer was to make it so that people would have to stick to Microsoft Office and not consider an alternative like OpenOffice or IBM Symphony. Except, now it appears Microsoft bit off more than it could chew when it made Open XML not only too complicated for anyone else, but too complicated for them too.

Now, faced with a complete failure to launch of their own standard, Andrew ‘Andy’ Updegrove, a partner with the Boston law firm, Gesmer Updegrove LLP, and the editor of, speculates that the ISO has been unable to render Open XML into any kind of publishable standard. This combined with, surprise, an actual demand for ODF support has left Microsoft in the embarrassing position of not being able to support their standard while having to support ODF, the ‘enemy’ standard.

By the way, that’s not me, the open-standards supporter saying Microsoft is feeling pressure to support ODF. Doug Mahug, senior product manager for Microsoft Office, told SD Times, that “ODF support was a priority for Microsoft.”

I’ve been accused of making fun of Microsoft all the time. OK, you tell me, how can you think about what Microsoft is doing here except to see it as a bad joke?

OK, aside from that aspect of it, what does this all mean? Well, it means that OpenOffice and desktop Linux both get a boost. If you can freely trade complicated documents between Microsoft Office and Windows and OpenOffice and Linux, there goes one of the biggest strawman arguments used against them by Microsoft supporters

Besides that aspect, it also means that Microsoft has a real problem with its loyal customers. As Michael Silver, a Gartner Research vice president, told SD Times’ David Worthington the most compatible formats in use now “are Microsoft’s legacy binaries, and he believes that Microsoft will be unlikely to convince customers to move to OOXML in the foreseeable future.”

If Microsoft can’t give users a compelling reason to switch from their old version of Office to Office 14 their cash-flow is going to slow down considerably. Microsoft has already failed to convince people to ‘upgrade’ to Vista ( If, as seems to be the case with these remarkable declarations about Open XML and ODF, they’re also having trouble with getting users to switch to the newer versions of Office, Microsoft really is beginning to get into serious trouble.