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Open-source doc format gets Microsoft backing

Microsoft backs adding ODF to ANSI standards

Days after declaring its intention to aggressively collect patent royalties from open-source distributors, Microsoft has backed adding ODF, the document file format used widely in open-source alternatives to Microsoft Office, to a list of business standards.

Microsoft also said it will support Office 2007's default document file format, Open XML, for the list maintained by The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as well.

The company said it supports ODF (Open Document Format for XML) because businesses want choice and interoperability for software they deploy. ANSI recommends business best practices, standards and guidelines to a range of industries in the US.

However, there may be other reasons for the move. Days ago, Microsoft slapped the open-source community with litigation threats if distributors and users don't strike deals with the vendor to pay for patents Microsoft allegedly holds for technology in Linux and other open-source software. The company even noted in the Fortune article where it laid out its aggressive stance on patents that OpenOffice.org, an open-source alternative to Office that supports ODF, contains 45 of Microsoft's patents.

"On the one hand, Microsoft is saying 'Nice standard you've got there’, while on the other hand, warning 'implement it if you dare, but only for a price’," noted Andrew Updegrove, an advocate for open technology standards and attorney with Gesmer Updegrove LLC in Boston, on his blog.

Updegrove said that by supporting ODF as an ANSI standard, Microsoft is "making it appear it is rising above the squabble to do the right thing”. Instead, he thinks the move serves as a challenge to vocal ODF supporters to support approval of Open XML as a global standard when a final vote for the draft specification comes before the ISO.

To its credit, Microsoft voted for ODF when it came before the ISO (International Organization for Standards), while IBM cast the only negative vote for Open XML when it was up for approval by standards organisation Ecma International, Updegrove added.

Battle lines between Microsoft and ODF supporters such as IBM and Sun Microsystems have been drawn for some time, and ODF and Open XML have emerged as the key rival standards for documents. Some government agencies in the US and abroad have said they will support ODF as the standard format for documents, a decision that may require them to stop using Office in favour of OpenOffice.org, or similar ODF-supported offerings from Sun, IBM and Google.

ODF has already been approved by the ISO, while Open XML will be up for an approval vote late this year.

See 10 things Microsoft loves & hates about open source.

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