Why the Office Format Wars are Not Over

Gone are the days when free software could blithely ignore what was happening in the world of proprietary code. The two approaches are now inextricably intertwined as more and more users and companies choose to run both. One paradoxical consequence of this is that as free software becomes more widely deployed, Microsoft's impact on it becomes greater. Against this background, a recent shift in Microsoft's public statements about open source assumes a particular importance.

Although you still come across the odd veiled threat against open source, the general approach seems now to be more conciliatory. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of this new policy of cohabitation is the creation of Microsoft's Open Source Software lab under Bill Hilf, and the CodePlex open source repository.

Another example of the gentler, kinder Microsoft came from Brian Jones in the context of office file formats:

I think at this point we can really move onto more productive and collaborative discussion and admit that we are no longer in any sort of "file format war." If we ever were really in a war, it's now over, and both sides are winners.

At first sight, this statement is good news for the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard and open source. It suggests that Microsoft is no longer out to crush this upstart that threatens the hegemony of Microsoft Office, one of the main pillars of the company's income, but is content to live and let live. However, statements elsewhere – by none other than Bill Hilf – put a slightly different perspective on things:

Open XML and the OpenDocument Format (ODF) must be allowed to compete in the market, where adoption is not determined by a vendor or standards body, says a Microsoft official.

Bill Hilf, general manager for platform strategy at Microsoft, said the market should decide what the prevailing standard should be in the war between the company's Open XML (extensible markup language) document format and the ODF.

"It's like VHS versus Betamax, where the market selected the one it wanted based on values"

This sheds an interesting light on Jones's statement that “both sides are winners



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baedfdd's picture

Hello! ecdbfdk interesting ecdbfdk site!


Justme's picture

Yup. It's always all about Microsoft, but then, they own the block. There's not really much you can do.

We think this is an

Home Refurbish Course's picture

We think this is an inspiring article.

Give me a break... a

Tracker's picture

Give me a break... a friendly Microsoft... No way... What choice does Microsoft have? The fact is that open source software, Linux, Firefox and many others have already become the favorites of Internet/computer savvy individuals. The influence of these people will grow exponentially into the future.

Microsoft is forced to follow suit, not because they want, but because they have to.

I agree with you

Blogger's picture

I agree with you wholeheartedly. They have to follow suit. They have no choice. Especially when Linux is free.

it will never be over

villar's picture

wars of products against any product will never be done. one may be up now and in a few years time it'll be at the bottom rung.

Unfair Advantage

Website Tips's picture

Even if ODF is the better format it will continue to struggle unless someone can find a way to get it included into the basic software put in the vast majority of machines being sold.

Right now the average user is buying machines full of Microsoft software, thinking that is the only thing that will safely work on their machine, and purchasing only Microsoft sanctioned after market software.

To kill the monopoly would take at least making the option available to the customer to have a different OS installed from the factory, with the open format software installed with it. If this were an option, especially being that the computer could now sell at a lower price, then there would be the possibility of an open field where the better product would win.

Great summary

Pozycjonowanie stron internetowych's picture

Contemporary open source software is beginning to become a real threat to commercial software. More and more people decides to use OS programs.
Very interesting post.


I am intrigued as to why, as

Betty Smith's picture

I am intrigued as to why, as an avid reader of various technical sites, I have not seen any of this "ad infinitum" coverage of OpenXML's in-fact-closedness. While I'm at it, I'd be interested to see any statistics showing that businesses are fleeing en masse to OpenOffice.org in the face of the huge improvements in usability that Microsoft are inflicting on the world with Office 2007.

Google Docs

A Man's Man's picture

I really have no interest in using any "office" program now that Google Docs is around. For me (someone who is online 24/7) - Google Docs has everything I need - It's easier to use... It's great for transferring info among other people. It's one of the coolest things Google has done recently.

Let me add in to the Google Docs chorus

Definitely Maybe's picture

I love Google Docs. I'll never bother with another office program as long as it's around.

check out others too

swarovski flip flops's picture

never limit yourself to just one office program when as discussed here there are MANY ...

I disagree. Why jump around

blogs dir's picture

I disagree. Why jump around from program to program? I just want one program I can use. I hate learning a new program. I want one program that works and that's that. Google Docs works for me too. It's great.

Yes Google docs is good..

Free funny video clips's picture

Its been a really nice tool indeed..

Me Too (Google Docs)

Susie Q Quesenberry's picture

I feel the same way about just using Google Docs at this point... But maybe that just means we are internet nerds? I guess some people don't like to spend every moment of every day on the internet! (I know, it's weird to me too.)

Great analyses!!!

Anonymous's picture

Great analyses!!!

This is not about winning

Free Software Downloads's picture

I do not think this can be considered a war. Maybe each format have its own advantages and none of the players wants to lose them. Or maybe the costs are just too high for Microsoft to switch to a open format.

Microsoft thinks the costs

Cell Phone Reviews's picture

Microsoft thinks the costs are too high to do anything different than what they already do.

Well, it isn't just about

Anonymous's picture

Well, it isn't just about the cost. You have understand that it is also their policy and that policy could have it's source in their belief. Microsoft is a very monopoly oriented company. They do not want Lion's share. They want everything. All.

MS office formating is a pain...

Goa's picture

I was using MS office initially, but with the new versions coming; MS office cost increased... When I tried to open my old documents on newer versions, the formating was shown spoiled. This is a peculiar problem with MS office. Now, I use Latex for big formating work like 100+ pages reports. This helps a lot in printing high quality documents without re formating needs.

I Agree

Free Credit Repair's picture

Goa, yep, I've found myself in similar position with MS Office. Anytime, there's a major upgrade, all very old documents become a problem to load into newer versions. In fact some were not opened at all or got corrupted. It's not just the cost of getting the upgrade, it's also the loss of important data or the time it takes to reformat them which sometimes can run into days.

im agree

Anonymous's picture

im agree

im agree?

Susie Q's picture

"im agree" - What in the heck does that mean?

i think this competition is

Geo's picture

i think this competition is good, it will show what the best format is and then that will be made a standard. we (users) can only profit...

File Formats Are So 20th Century

Puzzles's picture

In today's connected world, file formats are a non-issue. Developers will create plugins for the software they use in order to be compatible with some other software that's supposedly the 'standard'. The idea that everyone must agree upon one piece of software in order to share information went away with the need to buy software on CDs.

Open source serves a great purpose of providing functional software for those that can't afford fully supported software, but open source will never fully replace it. The dollars are the fuel that keep the creative engine moving forward at full steam.


Greece Hotels's picture

At the end of the day, it is down to each indivual which format they prefer. Competition will be a good thing in this case, and at the end of the day, the most popular will win - regardless of who supports the others. But it is always nice to have a choice.

I agree

New York restaurant's picture

One thing about office is that its new versions get costlier on every release. Thats a really bad thing. On switching to better choice of Open Office .org I have started liking it. And thats the end of Office Format Wars :)

Level Playing Field

pjr's picture

Since when does any large (monopolistic) company want a level playing field? Certainly Microsoft does not, any more than the cell phone companies (try using one power adapter to charge another's phone!), the connector manufacturerers (pages and pages and pages of different types, styles of connectors in the DigiKey catalog) or the Bell System (with its determined efforts to prevent others from accessing their lines).

But when the US DOD decided it was spending too much on software, it chose languages like COBOL and ADA and forced its suppliers to provide software in them. Now if only the US DOD or other arms of the US Government bureaucracy would insist on all its documentation being supplied in ODF ....

One major difference....

Anonymous's picture

You're right; the benefits to the DoD and other agencies are profound. I remember the Ada decision well. However, the difference is this: in the case of the Ada decision, it was individual programmers, not filthy-rich corporations, that were getting the high dollars for DoD programming. These individual programmers, unlike corporations, generally don't contribute to political campaigns.

You notice what happened when Microsoft started becoming a major political campaign contributor? All of a sudden, the antitrust case settlement in the USA went from being of the proper severity to a slap on the pinky, if that.

That's why the DoD, etc. will not adopt ODF. Both the Executive Branch and the Congress are bought and paid for by Microsoft when it comes to that. You'd need to have someone like a Ralph Nader or a Jesse Ventura in the Oval Office to change that.

They will

Glyn Moody's picture

I'm sure they will, because the benefits are just so great for them. As you rightly point out, they've done it before. All they need is a usable standard: enter ODF.

"Gone are the days when free

Anonymous's picture

"Gone are the days when free software could blithely ignore what was happening in the world of proprietary code."

When were those days? Maybe during the genesis of the GNU Project, when GNU tools were run side-by-side with proprietary Unix tools?

Later, I think

Glyn Moody's picture

I don't think people paid much attention to what proprietary systems were doing in the early 90s, say: people just coded. Certainly, the initial impetus for a free software project often came from a piece of closed code, but after that, I get the impression that the two worlds rarely touched in the way the way they do today, where commercial considerations have started to make everything more fraught.

Us and them

Anonymous's picture

Heh, that's an understatement Glyn. The only thought ever given to the proprietary world was to express distaste and disgust for it. It wasn't till the early part of this decade that the community "noticed" the closed source world and what was happening there.

OpenXML is Betamax

John Handis's picture

Bill Hilf's comparison of the ODF/OpenXML battle to the Beta/VHS battle is very interesting, indeed.

If I remember my "VCR Wars" history correctly, Beta was actually the superior format. It was created by Sony, and was so heavily patented/licensed/copyrighted/etc. that nobody could manufacture a VCR without first paying huge licencing fees to Sony. This, of course, made it cost ineffective to produce a VCR, unless you were Sony.

The rest of the industry responded to Beta with VHS. VHS was basically an "open standard" that all VCR manufacturers could use without the huge license fees. So, basically, everybody (who wasn't Sony) built VHS VCRs.

Bill's statement that the market selected VHS "based on values," is totally incorrect. Since 90 percent of VCRs on the market were VHS, the movie industry put out more content in VHS format, and the public purchased more VHS VCRs - simply because they had more selection of product and content with that format.

Think back to the late '80s/early '90s: Was DOS (and Win31) really a superior value to a Macintosh? Of course not. It was just that 90 percent of the PCs that one could buy ran DOS and Win31. Only an Apple system ran MacOS.

In theory, ODF is the VHS of office documents. It is used by every office application out there except Microsoft Office. That means OpenXML is Beta.

The difference here, of course, is that 90 percent of the desktops running office applications are already running Microsoft Office. If nobody had office applications, and this was a new field of software, ODF would win hands down. Microsoft's illegal monopoly, however, is poised to turn the tables on ODF.

The solution, of course, is for businesses to use both standards. Over time, Microsoft's poor support of ODF combined with the fact that U.S. companies will have to use ODF when dealing with government entities and foreign companies, will have those U.S. companies asking themselves: "Why are we even bothering with OpenXML? If we simply ran (StarOffice/WordPerfect Office/Applixware/Insert Name of Your Favorite Here) instead of Microsoft Office, we would have a lot less headaches."

Sony eventually entered the VHS market, even though they were still selling Beta. If Microsoft starts losing customers over poor ODF support, they will be forced to get with the program.

Nice analysis

Glyn Moody's picture

Which just goes to show how you have to be very careful with those analogies....