Should We Fear the (Redmond) Geeks Bearing Gifts?

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Microsoft has a little surprise for us:

When using [Microsoft Office 2007] SP2, customers will be able to open, edit and save documents using ODF and save documents into the XPS and PDF fixed formats from directly within the application without having to install any other code. It will also allow customers to set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007.

I've discussed elsewhere just why Microsoft might be taking this step; what I'd like to explore here briefly is how enterprise users can take advantage of this unexpected gift.

Whether or not this ability to set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007 ever materialises, and whether or not it does a good job, it is a huge boost for those pressing for a move to ODF within companies. At a stroke it removes the main objection from naysayers – that the vast majority of users on Microsoft Office will be unable to read and write files.

If – and it's a big if – Office 2007 is able to handle ODF natively, then document exchange becomes completely transparent, and the virtues of ODF can be assessed independently of its non-Microsoft origins. These include cross-platform support, a pool of multi-vendor implementations that should get bigger if Microsoft delivers, and a format that is far less complex than that of OOXML.

As well as this unexpected backing, proponents of ODF should also find their hand strengthened once OpenOffice.org 3.0 appears. By all accounts it's a good step up from version 2.0, and that was markedly better than 1.0. All-in-all, then, things are looking up for open source office suites in enterprises: now might be a good time to go on the offensive.

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