Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Goodbye Monopoly, Hello Competition

On the last day of June Microsoft quietly announced that they would be releasing the technical specifications of the binary formats for Microsoft Office. This includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and the Drawing specifications for Office 97-2007. It is licensed under the "Microsoft Open Specification Promise" (OSP) which may (or may not) be compatible with software licensed under the GPL. Opinions differ on that: though many people interpret it as being compatible with Open Source licenses such as the GPL, the Software Freedom Law Center sees some problems. (Here's their take; make up your own mind.)

The good news is that to the extent that users are covered by the OSP, Open Source software is likely to improve. OpenOffice.org already does an impressive job importing most binary MS Office documents, and it's the king of the hill when working with the ISO standard ODF format. This announcement means that packages such as OpenOffice.org will only get better, and at a faster pace than Microsoft's implementation of ODF. (Why do I make that conclusion? Because the OpenOffice.org team had to learn the binary MS Office formats the hard way, so are intimately familiar with it. The specification will either confirm their guesses or cause them to revise those guesses for incremental improvements in an already impressive import filter. On the other hand, when it comes to support for ODF file formats, Microsoft started flat-footed and late in the race.)

Of course this doesn't just benefit OpenOffice.org. IBM will reap huge benefits for its Symphony office suite, as will KOffice, and a number of other projects.

Coupled with the news that Microsoft plans to incorporate the ODF file format into MS Office, and you're left with this:
Goodbye Monopoly, Hello Competition.

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