Less than a day after Microsoft announced sweeping support for open document formats in its dominant Office suite, antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU) announced they would "investigate" the move. (The EU is already investigating whether Microsoft has limited consumer choice by pushing its own document formats over that of rivals.) Additionally, Microsoft's foes have issued predictable if nonsensical critiques of the software giant's announcement.
In a statement, the European Commission said it had "taken note" of Microsoft's announcement and would "investigate whether the announced support of ODF in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice."
Too, Microsoft's opponents found ways, incredibly, to criticize this week's announcement, which will make standards-based, open document formats like PDF and ODF first-class document types in Office alongside Microsoft's own formats. The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), a trade group comprised solely of Microsoft rivals, said the change was "not nearly enough." "Microsoft is still playing for time to further consolidate its super-dominant position, and continued antitrust vigilance will be necessary," an ECIS spokesperson claimed Wednesday.
The Free Software Foundation issued a similar statement which reads, "it's a step in the right direction but we are skeptical about how open Microsoft will be." The Open Document Format Alliance also used the word "skeptical" in its own reaction to Microsoft's move. "The proof will be whether and when Microsoft's promised support for ODF is on par with its support for its own formats," ODF Alliance managing director Marino Marcich told the BBC. "Governments will be looking for actual results, not promises in press releases."
These people are out of touch with reality. The truth is that not only is Microsoft supporting ODF and other open document formats in its dominant line of Office products, but it is doing so well before it supports the standards-based version of its own document format, Open XML. Microsoft will add native support for Open Document Format (ODF) 1.1, Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5 and PDF/A, and the XML Paper Specification (XPS) to Office in early 2009 as part of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2). But it won't support ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of Open XML until Office 14, the next major version of Office. (The Office 14 ship date has yet to be announced but is expected to happen in early 2010.)
Rather than complain that Microsoft isn't doing enough or is moving too slowly, these insular anti-Microsoft groups might take a moment to understand what it is that the software giant is really doing: opening up its support for document formats to meet the needs of customers and competing instead at the application level. And you don't have to look too hard at "competing" Office products like OpenOffice.org, IBM's Lotus SmartSuite, and Google Docs to realize that the Microsoft solution is dramatically superior. In the end, that is, I believe, what really rankles these anti-Microsoft shills: They're not interested in true competition, or even in the real-world needs of the governmental customers who called for these changes, but rather in regulatory action aimed solely at hobbling Microsoft and pushing "anything but Microsoft" solutions on users. Microsoft has been involved in many controversial issues, but its support of open document formats is hard to criticize.