Microsoft's Matusow and Mahugh on Office's move to open format support

"We feel we are achieving parity in how Office treats the format, by making them all part of just one simple list of formats supported by Office," said Microsoft Office Product Manager Doug Mahugh, in an interview with BetaNews.

For the history of applications up until now, the specification of the format used to encode documents was defined largely and almost inescapably by the functionality of the programs which utilize them. A format represented what an application was designed to do, and that format changed when the application changed.

Today, that fact changes. The document formats used by the world's pre-eminent applications suite will now be determined by a standards body, of which Microsoft is a member -- a consequence of Open XML's acceptance by the International Organization for Standardization. But now, and certainly more importantly, the applications suite in use by far more offices in the world than any other general-purpose product, will no longer stipulate any single default format -- not even Microsoft's own -- beginning with the release of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 during the first half of next year.

It is a monumental change in how things will work from here on out; and yes, there's no question that one reason Microsoft did it was to ensure the continued survival, and probable dominance, of Microsoft Office. The one effective bit of leverage its competitors had against it up until this year was the notion that using Office locked users, offices, businesses, enterprises, and governments into a single way of encoding documents whose methodology was subject to change by a private enterprise for reasons of its own making. Now, that leverage is nullified. The reason for challenging Microsoft Office on the basis of fairness, is gone.

BetaNews spoke at length with Doug Mahugh, Microsoft's product manager for ISO 29500-based products -- as the company now refers to them, and Jason Matusow, the company's director of corporate standards. What we saw from them was a complete and thorough response to a challenge made by the company's competitors years ago, to truly move toward "openness." Today, they dare anyone to define Microsoft's policy as anything less than perfectly transparent.

JASON MATUSOW, Director of Corporate Standards, Microsoft: Microsoft will continue to work at the international standardization level around Open XML in [ISO standards committee JTC 1] SC 34, where the ongoing maintenance of Open XML is being contributed to by countries all over the world.

Secondly, we're going to be joining the OpenDocument Format Working Group within OASIS. We're also going to extend our work and our commitment to working within AIIM, where PDF is being maintained and developed. And we're going to continue to work in ECMA, where currently XPS is being worked on; and then finally, our work in China around the UOF document format, which is the Chinese XML-based format, which is being standardized there, Microsoft will continue to engage with the government and with the Chinese standards organizations to continue the progress around UOF.

In fact, Microsoft will be so open that it may be impossible for anyone else to break away from the company. As an active part of OASIS, and with Novell and Sun already working with Microsoft on Open XML, it may be impossible for others to have an "open" conversation on document format strategy without Microsoft's direct involvement.

JASON MATUSOW: Through the Document Interoperability Initiative, we are engaging in a series of events where multiple vendors and customers and governments are coming together to work on specific technology scenarios in testing, and then that is also backed up by work that is happening within something called the Interoperability Vendor Alliance. Within the IVA, there are specific vendors coming together -- often competitors, such as Microsoft, Novell, and Sun -- who will engage in work around document format compatibility. All of these things are [intended to enable us] to reach out and have ongoing, open engagement about document formats, and how interoperability will exist between them.

Next: Where Open XML and ODF differ, which one gets the advantage?

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