Posted by Tom Robertson 
Associate General Counsel, MicrosoftOffice

Product announcements aren’t usually the subject of this blog, but I wanted to alert you to a product announcement we are making today that is the latest example of our commitment to help customers cope with today’s complex computing landscape by enhancing interoperability between products from different vendors.

Today we are releasing Microsoft Office 2007 service pack 2, a product update that contains (among other things) out-of-the-box support for more than 18 document file formats, including ODF, PDF, and XPS.  Office 2007 now provides built-in support for more file formats than any other productivity suite on the market.  SP2 is also shipping with a new programming interface that will make it easy for developers to make any other document format show up in the drop down menu and be selected by users as their default, putting it on a par with the major formats already supported in Office 2007.  That means Office 2007 supports most government-preferred document formats today, and can adapt to support new formats that might emerge down the road.

These enhancements to Office 2007 are the latest in a series of concrete steps we’ve taken in the pursuit of document-format interoperability.  Earlier this year, we published technical documentation detailing our implementation of Ecma-376 (Open XML) and ODF 1.1 in Microsoft Office 2007.  These notes provide a clear roadmap for anyone who wants to develop products that interoperate with our software, and are a useful reference for technical committees working to maintain these standards.

This was an unusual move for a vendor, but we believe providing this level of openness and transparency is a vital step in a larger, industry-wide effort to make document-format interoperability a reality.  In order to achieve interoperability that meets the real-world needs of customers with complex, heterogeneous IT environments, software vendors and other document-format implementers must embrace a holistic approach that includes:

  • Shared Stewardship. Vendors must support the maintenance of document format standards.  No standard is ever perfect so the maintenance effort is focused on fixing errors, filling gaps and including new technologies as they are developed.  That is why Microsoft is a positive and active contributor to the maintenance of Open XML in ISO/IEC and the maintenance of ODF in OASIS. 
  • Transparency. Vendors should openly share details about their document-format implementations to enable greater interoperability across the community. We’ve made this a central tenet in ourInteroperability Principles, and hope our publication of Open XML and ODF Implementation Notes will encourage similar transparency from others.
  • Collaboration. Vendors must work together to identify and resolve real-world issues among implementations, and build tools and solutions to improve interoperability over time. We are enthusiastic supporters of the Document Interop Initiative, which has already hosted eight events in six countries, with more to come.  We also support the launch of community projects by the highly respected Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS) to develop test libraries and validators that will advance the cause of Open XML interoperability across the industry.

Document-format interoperability is especially important in the public sector given the increased demand for open and transparent government, the acute need for efficient government and citizen services (e-government frameworks), and the rising demand for data portability.

The role of standards in the pursuit of interoperability is often the subject of spirited debate and impassioned rhetoric.  We are happy to engage in these discussions, but it’s important to do more than talk—the work doesn’t end once standards are in place.  We are committed to a collective, comprehensive approach to interoperability, and we encourage all vendors to embrace this vision.