In a breakthrough development, Microsoft has announced its future editions of Microsoft Office, beginning with Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, will enable users to choose OpenDocument support as an alternate default option.
Microsoft's director of corporate standards, Jason Matusow, and its senior product manager for ISO 29500-based products, Doug Mahugh, jointly confirmed the news to BetaNews personally.
Beginning with Office 2007 Service Pack 2 -- which for the first time, Microsoft acknowledged this morning will be available during the first half of 2009 -- users will be presented with an option, both during installation and through options settings, enabling them to choose ODF as the default save format for spreadsheets, documents, and presentations. In a remarkable move that also shows how much Adobe's format has become an independent standard in its own right, PDF format will also be offered as an optional default, as well as Microsoft's XML Paper Specification (XPS) portable format.
This goes many steps beyond the ability to export documents to what would be considered foreign formats. With one-time settings, users will be able to say their own native format is not Office Open XML, the current default format of Office 2007, but one of these three other formats instead. This puts Office in direct functional competition not only with distributors of the OpenOffice suite such as Novell and Sun, but with Adobe's Acrobat Professional as well. Users will still be able to save in other formats, through a selection made from the Save as type combo box in the Save as dialog box.
Furthermore, Matusow and Mahugh told BetaNews, the next edition of the applications suite -- still code-named "Office 14" -- will support ISO 29500 as one of its optional default formats. In other words, this will be the amended version of Microsoft's format, which will be considered by the company as the successor to "Office" Open XML. As Mahugh told us, the decision has yet to be made with regard to how to handle saving to the existing Office 2007 format, although the possibility that users of Office 14 will need to export documents to the older Office 2007 format for an older generation of users, remains open. This would be similar to how Microsoft Word 2003 from Office XP, for instance, offered users an option to save in Word 97 format for compatibility purposes.
BetaNews has also learned that Microsoft intends to publish an open API for developers of document format extensions, or developers of their own original formats -- should such a cottage industry ever emerge -- that would enable them to plug their own XML schemas into Office 14, letting users install those formats as Office's default save format in place of ISO 29500, ODF, XPS, and PDF. In the meantime, the company will be working on its own loading and saving options for Office documents using the Chinese national standard UOF format, perhaps using this API for the job.
In the event that users choose a default document format that fails to contain a function supported by an Office application -- for instance, embedded WordArt or conditional cell formatting in a worksheet -- the non-supported function will remain available to the user, Mahugh told BetaNews; in other words, its menu or ribbon command won't be grayed and turned off. But users will be warned at save time that certain elements of their document cannot be saved in their default format of choice. They may be given the option to save in another format, or perhaps convert non-supported content to another form.
More news from BetaNews' extensive interview with Microsoft's Doug Mahugh and Jason Matusow, about their company's extraordinary turn of events, is forthcoming in BetaNews.