Microsoft support for OpenDocument (ODF) - Ninja

Microsoft support for OpenDocument (ODF)

Posted by Andrew Z at Monday, May 4, 2009 | Permalink

Recently released, Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 supports OpenDocument Format version 1.1. With Microsoft's tarnished history of abusing standards for profit and obvious preference for Microsoft's own Office Open XML, what could Microsoft's ODF support possibility look like?

Office 2007 SP2 supports ODF is supported out of the box. There's nothing to add on or enable: It Just Works(tm). OpenDocument is listed among other formats in the File and Save dialogs. Remarkably Excel and PowerPoint list OpenDocument last. The order is neither alphabetical (XPS comes before OpenDocument) nor not in terms of conversion fidelity (because CSV also comes first).

To evaluate the quality, I opened the reference document ODF_text_reference_v3.odt in Word 2007. Overall the conversion was respectable for what is essentially a version 1.0 release for Microsoft Office. The bugs I noticed were:

  • Tracked changes were missing.
  • The second level of an ordered list was indented like first level (that is, it was not intended correctly).
  • An inline image was out of place.
  • One active hyperlink was neither blue nor underlined (though another hyperlink is fine).
  • All form controls were missing.
  • Not exactly a format bug, but Word 2007 considers "OpenDocument" misspelled though "WordPerfect" is recognized.

I also tested saved simple spreadsheet functions in 3.1 (release candidate 1) and opened it in Excel. A chart converted nicely, but Excel silently converted all the functions to their last values. That's often fine for viewing but worthless for collaboration. Microsoft seems to be waiting for OpenFormula (ODFF) standard to be finished, but Rob Weir points out that some Microsoft Office customers were already saving spreadsheet formula in ODF using the OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office, a project involving Microsoft.

Undoubtedly there are more bugs and quirks that will show up in certain types of documents. For example, Ivan N. Zlatev noticed a few. Generally I expect simple ODF word processor documents will transfer easily, but large business document will suffer.

To be fair, any large software program has bugs, and Office 2007 SP2 is Microsoft's first take on ODF in Office. Furthermore, not all differences are bugs, and Microsoft gets bonus points for documenting implementation details. For example, ODF allows for larger page sizes, but Word 2007 imposes a limit of 22x22 inches on all document formats.

Even ODF poster child has bugs in the ODF implementation. My favorite is 64237: until version 3.0, implemented the paragraph hidden property backwards.

Microsoft has opened the ODF door and will be pressured on better interoperability, so even my inner cynic has a hard time imagining interoperability will not improve. With Office 2007 SP2 and Wordpad in Windows 7 supporting ODF, the future looks bright for OpenDocument Format. Has Microsoft turned a new leaf? Microsoft's recent investments in ODF, PDF, and web standards (in Internet Explorer 8) are probably more a function of government regulation or business demand than corporate goodwill. Backed into a corner or otherwise, Microsoft has done the right thing, but further work is necessary before the general public can use ODF transparently in Office.

Microsoft has surrendered on web standards and office document formats, and they will focus the battle elsewhere. By the time Evolution and Thunderbird gain traction as competitors to Outlook, Microsoft will have business users addicted to more complex technologies such as Sharepoint and software as a service (SaaS).


pvilela said...

Yes, that's why we must help the Alfresco guys to battle Sharepoint

Also, check Rob Weir's article on ODF compatibility

NoobixCube said...

Just wait for it. We're at the "Embrace" step now. Just wait until we get to "Extend" and MS starts adding features that only MS Office can read. Might not extend the spec or anything, but there are probably a lot of subtle things they can do without breaking any rules.

Anonymous said...

@pvilela I dont think alfresco can beat Sharepoint. However I think that more ODF backends are needed so that the market opportunity grows for ODF as far as vendors concentrating on a standard grows.

I think sharepoint is very closed and the difference is having open platforms on the backend that can improve organically.

I am not an expert on sharepoint however it seems is really a stack of different products all by microsoft.

Would it be easier to combat that with our own modifications like having mediawiki be more ODF friendly or the recent become a ramework for new backend ODF processing houses?

Sameer Verma said...

What OpenOffice will need is a OLPC/ Sugar style XML collaboration, so that once a group of OOo users sign into a XMPP (Jabber) server, their word processors, spreadsheets, etc can collaborate in real time.

Sugar uses Telepathy ( to do this. Abiword is Sugar's default word processor, which supports this kind of collaboration. I wonder how much work OOo platform will require to make this happen.

Anonymous said...

Please be aware of possible fragmentation to increase from the Microsoft side, before praising them I think we need more info to really understand if we are getting a Troya Horse kind of gift.

rsandu2007 said...


Please DON'T USE MS OFFICE'S ODF SAVING FEATURE ! It will produce badly broken (and non-interoperable) ODF documents.

Rob Weir, a co-autor tells us why:

Actually, it's a move to SABOTAGE ODF, not to comply to the standard !

For my fellow Romanian readers, here are details:


MasterBlaster said...

If what Razvan is saying is true, then indeed, jzarecta's suspicion of a Trojan Horse type of a gift is also validated.

Aren't these the signs of desperation of a company who, failing to achieve its goals through giving quality, resorts to subtle unethical stealth tactics?