On “motivation” and commitment to open file formats

Microsoft has been and continues to be fully committed to opening its document formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Interoperability is not new to Office, and Open XML is part of a much broader strategy around interoperability for Office. When we look at the past three years of document format related investments, you'll see this shining through; we've done quite a lot. Different circumstances led to each of these activities, but as a collection of work, the intent is unmistakable, and despite claims to the contrary, we're highly motivated to ensure that we can participate in an open environment. These are all steps toward openness, which is good for us, good for our customers and good for the industry.

Brian Jones has covered the history of the formats and XML support for Office in a prior post, there is a significant amount of ground covered in his post. 

Let's take a look at what has happened:

  • Binary File Format Program – It's amazing that many Open XML opponents today claim that the binary formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, "aren't available." The first license grant that I can track happened in 2003. Among the companies who have licensed the formats are Sun, Adobe and IBM. If you're interested in getting these specifications, go here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/840817/en-us

  • Covenant not to Sue for XML reference schemas - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/HA102134631033.aspx?pid=CL100796341033. The covenant was issued to allay IP concerns regarding the adoption of the 2003 XML reference schemas for WordProcessingML and SpreadsheetML. The covenant makes any Microsoft patents required to implement these schemas available to anyone to implement them – and no fee is charged.  The Covenant was extended to Open XML when it was submitted to Ecma for standardization.

  • Open XML Announced at TechEd 2005 – After much deliberation with analysts and customers, Microsoft announced the transition away from binary and the inclusion of Open XML in June of 2005, at the TechEd conference (this was one of the first major activities I completed at Microsoft). We treated this very carefully, as we knew from the Office '97 launch that changing file formats in Office is a hard thing to do. The transition was important for a lot of reasons. Open XML offers a lot of new opportunities for the Office ecosystem, and it helps our customers and partners get better interoperability with the document formats. We hash and re-hash the benefits a lot, but when you boil it down to its essence, this is what we're really after.

  • PDF for Office 2007 (including PDF/A) – In October of 2005, Microsoft announced support for saving PDF documents within Office, including files that support the ISO standard PDF/A. If you've never encountered PDF/A, it was among the first ISO-ratified PDF standards (variations of PDF/X were first) intended to improve document archival.

  • Submission of Open XML to Ecma International and ISO – In November of 2005, Microsoft announced the submission of the Open XML formats to Ecma International for Standardization.

  • Open XML Developer.org, Open XML Community.org – In support of Open XML adoption, we elected to offer a developer portal that was outside our traditional MSDN developer channel. Open XML Developer is a portal for the Open XML community to share information. It is outside of MSDN because some community members would prefer to conduct their business somewhere other than Microsoft.com. Open XML Community.org is another web property that is designed to illustrate the overwhelmingly strong traction the formats have received in a short period of time. Many Open XML adopters have taken the time to add contributions to the site.

  • Office compatibility Pack for Open XML formats – In November 2006, Microsoft released the first version of the compatibility pack for Microsoft Office. This add-in allows users of Office 2000, XP and 2003 to read and write Open XML formats for free. We created this add-in to retrofit Open XML support into prior releases, to ease the pain of transitioning file formats that we experienced in the Office 97 change. This add-in has been downloaded more than 20 million times, and is in widespread use today.

  • Office File Scanning & Conversion tools – Early in 2007 came the release of the Office Migration Planning Manager for Office 2007, we introduced two very important tools for managing a transition to XML-based formats: The Office File Scanning tool and Office File Conversion tool. The file scanning tool scans machines for the presence of different file formats, examining for age, presence of DRM & Macros and other criteria. The reports generated by the file scanning tool can be used as the basis for the Office File Conversion tool, which converts Word, Excel and PPT binary to Open XML.

  • Open Specification Promise for Open XML formats – Based on feedback we got about the CNS and because of the growing significance of interoperability, we introduced a new Open Specification Promise to give implementers of our published specifications more reasons not to worry about any Microsoft patents required to implement the Open XML specs. Open XML is offered under this promise, to ensure there is no ambiguity in our commitment to allowing others to implement the spec. My favorite phrase in the OSP (that seems to have been 'accidentally' over looked by most Open XML opponents): "In connection with the specifications listed below, this Promise also applies to the required elements of optional portions of such specifications."

  • ODF Translator – The growing relevance of the ISO standard ODF was an opportunity for us to improve our interoperability approach in Office. But ODF didn't come without its challenges. Adding ODF support to Microsoft Office was always going to be tricky; we would either be accused of "embrace and extend" for adding custom extensions for all the stuff that was missing from the spec (spreadsheet formulas or presentation tables, for example), or we would build a translator that didn't move everything from Open XML to ODF, again setting us up for an accusation of hindering ODF. We took the decision to conduct that activity in an open source environment. This allowed us to accomplish a few things: First, we could sponsor the implementation of ODF in a public forum to allow for public examination / comment BEFORE the tool shipped. If anything was not being implemented satisfactorily, it could be noted and corrected. The OSS effort for the ODF Translator also allowed us to sponsor an OSS project that facilitated document translation between Open XML and something else. Early on in the life span of Open XML, this was an important activity to jump-start adoption. To date, the ODF translator is not in widespread use (the ODF Translator for Word has been downloaded ~225,000 times compared to the 20 Million for the Open XML compatibility pack), but we'd expect that the translator activity to be commensurate with interest in ODF in our customer base.

  • UOF Translator – Much like the ODF Translator (and DAISY translator below), we sponsored the Open XML to UOF translator in an OSS environment because we wanted to ensure we had appropriate industry cooperation in implementing the specification.

  • Microsoft Office Isolated Conversion Environment (MOICE)MOICE is a tool based on the compatibility pack for Office, and is designed to facilitate document conversions to Open XML in a shielded process. This will protect a system against malformed binary documents and silently convert them to Open XML before they are opened in an application. The tool is available for IT administrators to deploy in high-security environments, and is available as a manual download from Microsoft.com (READ: Conspiracy theorists, we don't push that download to anyone's machine, it's a manual, opt-in download, just like the compatibility pack.)

  • DAISY Translator – Of all the software projects I've ever been involved with, this is one that I get pretty warm and fuzzy about. Working at a company this size, we tend to look at macro-scale events and enablement. But with the DAISY Translator work that we've undertaken with the DAISY Consortium, we're reaching out directly to a specific community of users, and providing functionality for Office that they've wanted for a very, very long time. This work directly benefits people; this isn't about politics, positioning or anything else. This is pure up-side for the users of our products, and it is something that a lot of people feel very, very good about.

  • Binary document conversion – Microsoft recently announced its intent to sponsor an Open-Source software development project to enable the conversion of binary documents to Open XML documents, making it even easier to migrate off the old binaries. At the same time we also announced that the existing binary format program will be available on the web and that Microsoft binary formats will be offered under the Open Specification Promise.

So, no matter how you look at it, or which nits you'd want to pick (correct or not), this is a long list of advancements that really illustrate how much we have moved forward on openness and interoperability with respect to document formats in the Office products. Hopefully I don't have to write a grand conclusion, the data here should speak for itself. Let's just say that the commitment to openness here is evident and unquestionable.

Comments (15)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Today is a very important day in the history of Microsoft; it’s a moment with which I am very happy to

  2. Anonymous says:

    Microsoft has been and continues to be fully committed to opening its document formats for Word, Excel

  3. Anonymous says:

    Brian Jones has a post this afternoon on the concept of harmonization of document formats, and in particular

  4. Anonymous says:

    Chris Capossela, SVP at Microsoft (somewhere high in the altitude of my management chain) has published

  5. Anonymous says:

    Given my remarks about the current chair of the OASIS ODF TC , I thought I’d round out my ODF related

  6. Anonymous says:

    The ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard is a great outcome from the post-BRM voting period. Ecma

  7. Anonymous says:

    Brian Jones has a post this afternoon on the concept of harmonization of document formats, and in particular

  8. Anonymous says:

    Patrick Durusau , le co-éditeur de ODF à l’ISO ODF et OASIS , responsable de la représentation US au

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday was a big day, filled with lots of goodness on openness and interoperability . Today I thought

  10. GrayKnowlton says:

    Hi Dave,

    Of the above investments, I’m not sure which you are referring to as “swift and negative,” (also worth noting that our response to ODF included “Approve” votes from Microsoft representatives in US standards committees like ANSI.)

    I’ve intentionally not blogged about the Yahoo! deal, I don’t plan to start now. I don’t see any meaningful correlation between supporting ODF and the Yahoo! offer.

    And the great thing about the translator is, you can test it for yourself to see, anyone is welcome to address what they would see as a defect in conversion. We sponsored the project in a public forum for this reason… you can see for yourself how it is done and offer feedback based on data to improve the tool. Commenting to me about it will do little good, especially without any specific conversion issues that you are facing.

    If you want a second opinion on the nature of cross-application interoperability, look here: http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/02/anatomy-of-interoperability.html

    (start with point 5 in the seciont “the forces that help counteract these problems are:”)

    I think this should round out your point of view on the ODF implementation community with respect to this point.

  11. GrayKnowlton says:

    Hi Dave,

    I would recommend visiting this site:


    and http://www.microsoft.com/oba

    These should outline our broader set of activities around interoperability, and will hopefully illustrate why interoperability is important to our business.

    ODF and Open XML are unique in the sense that people have latched onto this particular part of the discussion. We don’t have a lot of discussions about the use of XML Schema, XPath or other XML standards with InfoPath. We don’t see a lot of dicussion on the Web Services support offered in many of our products… we see only the discussion about document formats. Our activities span a much broader set of needs.

    Regarding the use of ODF in "ODF compatible" product, I would regard Microsoft Office as one of those. And if we view ODF as a product-neutral format, we’ll view every product that supports it as a candidate for use. I can’t speak for the adoption of other products, all I can see is what I know of Microsoft Office.

    And.. being a product person (not a standards person), I’m really after finding out what features / functionality motivate people to use our software. If ODF becomes one of those things, then we will see the numbers for ODF usage accelerate. Right now that isn’t really a top priority based on what the numbers would indicate. Please understand that this is not a criticism of the format, just me keeping an eye on what users are doing.

  12. Dave S. says:

    What is the motivation to be open?

    It can’t be customer demands, as ODF is obviously incapable of competing and there are no suitable alternatives to the MS Office suite.

    I’m sure customers ask. Every airline passenger wants a wider seat and more leg-room, but as long as competitive economics is in play, the airlines can ignore that and similar demands from their customers.

    By-the-by. How can MS posit that ODF cannot represent MS documents well and then tout that the (MS->ODF) converter to this poor format is not downloaded as often as a tool that allows users to avoid an expensive upgrade?

    Wouldn’t most ODF users already use an ODF compatible product that could -import- MS Office files?

    Maybe it’s the caffeine.

  13. Dave S. says:

    The reason for the format frenzy is mostly that MS has latched onto it. A few of your customers tried to explore alternatives and the swift, negative response from MS has attracted all the attention.

    Were there competition I’m sure things would be better, but there is no way to compete with a company that is willing and able to buy its way in, rather than compete, using a $44,000,000,000 offer.

    Microsoft Office is as compatible with ODF as wordpad is. I’ll bet one can read an ODF file into wordpad and write it out again and it will appear completely the same to the originating application. The same is not likely for Office.

  14. Dave S. says:

    Massachusetts, Houston, Florida, and Peru come immediately to mind as having encountered swift and negative responses to changes away from MS products.

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2003-01-21-simdesk-cover_x.htm for example.

    How is SimDesk today? Looks like they are out of the office productivity market and off to collaboration. Is Houston back to the Office suite? In 2003 SimDesk offered a significant alternative, but in 2008 there is no hint of word processing or spreadsheets at SimDesk.

    Reading clearly, you would see I wrote that it was Microsoft’s continuing focus on ODF that is at the heart of the conflict over it.

    If there is a benefit to users of MSO-XML that offsets the cost to convert billions of documents to a format that is intended to duplicate "faithfully" some facets of the old, in a quantifiable way, then have at it. Let the marketplace look at features without having to wipe off mud to see what lies beneath.

    Continuing to complain about how unfair the ODF camp is to a vulnerable Microsoft hurts the MSO-XML position.

    Also, reading carefully, I did not write there was a correlation between supporting ODF and the Yahoo! deal. What I wrote was that a company that could offer $44,000,000,000 to work its way into a market they could not otherwise compete in, is not one that could be competed against.

    To head off further misunderstanding, this applies to those companies trying to compete where MS is already established, and often in those areas where MS has set its plan to spend whatever it takes to suffocate existing players.

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