Microsoft sells a lot of software. Some of it is dominant in its area of impact. Microsoft Office is a perfect example. Open Document Format (ODF) is a challenge to that supremacy. If a person can successfully use an MSOffice alternative and move the produced data around effectively, Microsoft Office will lose its market dominance.
ODF is a file format. It is significant beyond that simple fact.
Through the years, every program which could produce a written document has had some file format. Even the venerable ASCII text file has/is a format, even though it lacks many abilities business, school and casual users expect today.
What ODF is attempting is really significant, though. When there are a bunch of competing file formats, the big deal is found in being able to “import” the file of a competitor’s program. And, if you cannot actually “export” quite so well, then it is easy to put the fault at the feet of the competitor whose format is inferior or otherwise inadequate. ODF seeks to make the file format a non-issue
Let’s use word processing as a basic example. With ODF, you choose your favorite WP program; you open a file from Joe in written in another program; Joe isn’t from your school; you add your information and then save it again; and finally you ship it to Susan at the Department of Education (whatever its official name) who can immediately open it in her favorite program. None of these “favorites” needs to be from Microsoft.
Clearly, that doesn’t play well in the world of Microsoft’s dreams. They don’t benefit from interoperability. They do, however, benefit even when they change the file format from time to time as it helps to ensure that people must buy the newest version of Word. That newest version isn’t often inexpensive, even if a business has gradually moved gradually over the years from Word 1.0, step by step, up to today’s shiny version.
Do you remember WordPerfect, MultiMate, XYWrite, WordStar, AppleWriter, Clarisworks, even Microsoft Works? They were once competitors for Word. Some were very successful Have you used their most recent version lately? (Corel still sells WordPerfect in 2009 and MSWorks v9 is listed on Microsoft’s online store. I’m not sure about all the others, but some are gone.)
Today’s “favorite” word processing program is Microsoft Word. It dominates the word processing “industry”. But what if ODF succeeds? Microsoft probably doesn’t gain anything. Word will continue to be “favorite” for many, but increasingly there will be competition from the other guys. Users, some tired of the upgrade cycle, some not needing the new features of Word 20XX, some actually prefering another WP program. Those users will tell and teach others about their satisfaction over time, and Word will possibly become “just another word processing program”.
If you were in charge of Microsoft, would you encourage ODF?
If you are just a user, say a school user, maybe a teacher or a student and you need to pay for the program you use at home or the dorm, should you encourage ODF?
I would also recommend the following blog/article from ComputerWorld by Glyn Moody on the same topic.