Vendor lock-in and open document formats

Microsoft are investing in a converter that will allow their customers to read and write documents in the OpenOffice format. This is a good thing. It means if I choose to save my documents in OpenOffice format then I have a choice of two office suites to open them in (three if you count StarOffice).

NB My advice would therefore be to adopt the OpenOffice format to save your documents, whatever software you use to edit them.

Why are they doing this? Well, you will note they are not investing in a Microsoft Office converter for OpenOffice. That would simply encourage people to switch away from their product. I’m sure Novell are already working on such a converter for exactly that reason.

An OpenOffice converter allows them to retain their market share by (i) enabling their customers to open all documents, (ii) pacifying organisations like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who don’t want their documents tied up in a proprietary format and (iii) looking like good citizens.

They could have been really cynical and only funded the part of the project that converts from OpenOffice to Microsoft Office, and not the other way round, but that would have made them look bad. This is the next best option for them.

They may be doing this for slightly the wrong reasons but no matter, it brings their product back into consideration for me. Now the only decision is whether the usability advantage of Office 2007 is worth the big bucks you have to pay for it.


2 Responses to “Vendor lock-in and open document formats”

  1. 1 Andrew Yeomans November 1, 2006 at 11:41

    See also Bob Sutor’s comments: ” Is Open XML a one way specification for most people?”

  2. 2 Andrew Yeomans October 31, 2006 at 13:36

    Here’s a lengthy discussion of the Microsoft converter. The links are worth following. Note that the MS converter from OpenXML to ODF is only just scheduled for initial, incomplete release.

    Microsoft’s Steve Zaske has blogged about ODF conversions. He states (and I generally agree) “Users are much better off staying with the DOC/XLS/PPT binary file formats and moving between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice because OpenOffice actually does a pretty good job of supporting the Microsoft file formats.” Though the rest of the blog entry tries to wrongly disparage the format through the conversion problems of the implementations.

    From what I’ve seen elsewhere, the MS converters are not going to be integrated into Office as well as the native format.converters.

    I’m intrigued about the other converters, to allow earlier versions of Office to use Office OpenXML. As right now, the OpenOffice ODF format dwarfs the use of Office 2003 XML, and that in turn dwarfs MS OpenXML. From MS’s point of view, they really need converters to/from OpenXML to build market share in that format. Even if it is only limited to the Windows platform.

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