As they did in the past with Java and HTML (just to cite two cases), Microsoft has now invested at least 12 months of work to try to fragment the ODF in the IT market: A shame.I swear I was ready to publish this week a post praising Microsoft for finally released SP2 of Office 2007 with native support for ODF, but unfortunately after the initial tests of various users, what we see is an absurd attempt to mislead consumers (who payed for the software) and fragment ODF in the IT industry.
When I use the word fragment, I mean the known tactic of using ‘creativity’ during the implementation of a standard to make the implementation only compatible with your software (people that had seen sites that only work in Internet Explorer already know what I’m talking about). Looking from outside, the documents appear identical but a most consistent inside look demonstrate that they are completely different, thus fragmenting the uniformity expected as a consequence of a standard adoption.
One of the first articles published about SP2 and for which I call the attention of everyone is from Rob Weir, chair of the OASIS ODF TC (group that develops the ODF, to which I belong). It is simply scary to see what Office 2007 does with existing ODF spreadsheets.
The technical details are all on Rob’s blog, but in summary, when opening an ODF spreadsheet (.ods file) using Office 2007, it simply removes all existing formulas without telling anything to the user, leaving only the values in cells (results of formulas evaluation, previously stored in the document). If a user wants to test the ODF support in Office, and without giving due attention, save an existing spreadsheet, will overwrite the document removing all the formulas (as if you were writing a table). I saw absurdities in life, but nothing compared to this.
When using Office 2007 to generate a new worksheet, the formulas will be stored in a way that only will be understood by Office 2007 (or by CleverAge, an MS Office plug-in to support ODF, developed as Open Source and sponsored by Microsoft), eliminating the possibility that any other existing application could be used to usefully read the document.
While the first problem simply throw out all the business intelligence inside the spreadsheet (formulas), the second locks in the user on Office 2007 forever (we have seen this movie before…).
The justification that could be used by Microsoft about it, is the lack of spreadsheet formula definition in ODF 1.0/1.1. Interesting to note that in ODF 1.2 (which is developed with the participation of Microsoft) this problem has been resolved with the creation of OpenFormula).
The first comparative table of Rob’s post, summarizes a test on the same subject that he did a few weeks ago, it is easy to see that even without any spreadsheet formula definition inside ODF 1.1, interoperability between the tested set of existing applications ( KOffice, OpenOffice, Google Docs, Symphony and Sun’s plug-in for Office) really exists on the real world (except for CleverAge that presented some problems). This means that all other developers are not concerned only to ‘comply with standard’s requirements’ (conformance) but also in developing a truly useful and interoperable application to users. Rob also says that the set of formulas used by these applications (based on OpenOffice) was developed based on existing formulas from Excel (at least ironic, huh?).
I also highlight that the problems presented on OpenOffice when Rob repeated his tests with the new version of the suite, were caused because the developers of OpenOffice 3.0 decided to incorporate ODF 1.2 as default. ODF 1.2 still under development in OASIS. No question about what led to this decision, but I’ve orientated all users of OpenOffice 3.0 that I know, to change the configuration of the office suite to use ODF 1.0/1.1 as the default file format (in the Options menu of OpenOffice, there is a group called “load / save” where it can be done). I admire the efforts of OpenOffice’s developers to incorporate the ODF 1.2 to their software, but I think it should have been placed as an additional feature, not as its default format (I’m using OpenOffice 3.0.1 configured to work with ODF 1.0/1.1 and I’ve had no interoperability problems at all).
I also enjoyed to see the comments that PJ (Groklaw) (I think it was PJ) made about MSOffice SP2. PJ isn’t a developer and therefore created a simple text document and find absurd results too.
PJ also wrote something very interesting, and I agree 100%:
“…Dear Microsoft, could you please do something about this? It’s just code, which means it can be fixed. But your code is proprietary, so we can’t fix it. Only you can. Like the old song says, could you please put on some speed? Others like Google Docs seem to be able to do ODF spreadsheets. Why can’t you? No doubt there will be improvements, but when?…”
As I don’t have a computer with Windows and I don’t have MS Office 2007 to test, I did some tests with SP2 trough the exchange documents with friends who have Office 2007 with SP2 installed and here are my 2 cents for all the tests that are appearing (and being published every second on the Internet):
Microsoft Office 2007 does not support encryption (password protection) in ODF documents !
I generated a simple text document (.odt) in ODF using OpenOffice and saved it with password protection. I sent the document (and password) to several friends and the result was the same: MS Office cannot open the document because it is password protected (some of those friends also have installed on their computers other tools that support ODF and on 100% of those tools it worked).
I also asked them to generate a document in Office 2007 with password protection and send me, but they said that when trying to do this, MSOffice presented a warning message saying that you cannot use password protection using the ODF format.
I would really like to find a good technical explanation for this, since the encryption and password protection are fully specified in ODF 1.0/1.1 (item 17.3 of the specification), and they are using existing algorithms, very familiar to any developer.
A comment from Rob in his post (that not dealt with the encryption) is able to comment with mastery the problem I found (and I fully agree with him):
“…I was taught to never assume malice where incompetence would be the simpler explanation. But the degree of incompetence needed to explain SP2’s poor ODF support boggles the mind and leads me to further uncharitable thoughts… ”
It is impressive to see how Microsoft constantly shows disrespect for their customers, partners and the market in general and it is also impressive to see this clearly demonstration of their complete inability to change.
If anyone have more texts about ODF problems found on Service Pack 2, please put the links on the comments (we can use this post as a source for research about those problems).
Here is my recommendation: Don’t use Office 2007 with Service Pack 2 for manipulating ODF documents. If your decision is still using MS Office, install the Sun’s plug-in, but I really recommend that you search for another solution that natively support ODF documents. Don’t loose time (and money) with those who disrespect you.
For people who wants to follow the news about ODF in the world, I recommend a daily visit to Planet ODF (it indexes everything).