Good question, but the answer may not be as straightforward as the announcement this week by Microsoft, and the ongoing online media coverage, suggests. The impression given is that Microsoft is supporting the Open Document Format in Office 2007 by sponsoring an open source based translator. This will take documents in the native Office 2007 Open XML format and convert them to ODF ones. Great stuff considering that ODF did not even exist in the Microsoft universe as recently ago as 2005, what with it being a rival format and all, indeed, some would say THE rival as ODF is used by OpenOffice.

So why am I not dancing in the moonlight with joy? Well I guess it might have something to do with me being a professional word monkey, for whom what is actually said is more important than the message that is being sold. And what Microsoft has actually said is that it is ‘supporting’ the format in Office 2007 and I don’t believe that to be the case, at least not according to my own definition of support in the technical sense of the word. Let’s get this straight: there will be no ODF support built into Office 2007and there will be no Microsoft ODF translator. What there will be is support for the three third party developers who are creating the tool under the Open XML Translator Project and making it available for download from Sourceforge.

But Aztecsoft, Clever Age and Dialogika are not Microsoft whether it provides technical answers to Open XML queries from them or not, and it won’t be playing any role as far as ODF technical input by the way. Sure, Microsoft will forward bug reports from Office 2007 users to the project team: big deal, what about helping to resolve those issues? Financial backing and public endorsement does not equal support, it equals supportive. Accuse me of playing with semantics if you like, but these things matter, a lot. As long as Microsoft is not providing technical support for the ODF translator, as long as this is a Sourceforge download and not a Microsoft one, and as long as it remains a plug-in and not an integral part of the Office 2007 application I maintain that Microsoft is being disingenuous in claiming support for ODF in the suite.

I understand why it is claiming this, because it makes for good media: it implies built in support and a big shift towards open standards from Microsoft. The reality is that it is no different from any other plug-in, and the claims should be limited to announcing a new third party plug-in is available. Heck, Microsoft is not even contributing any code to the project, let alone providing architectural guidance. I suspect that it will not be accepting the blame if the Office 2007 does a useless job of converting your documents either.

So there you go, in my opinion Microsoft is not going to offer ODF support in Office 2007. Which is a shame, because I got as excited as the next geek when I first read the news…?