Microsoft backs ODF

The move seems to contradict its legal attack on open source, some say

Just days after declaring its intention to aggressively collect patent royalties from open-source distributors, Microsoft backed adding ODF, the document file format used widely in open-source alternatives to Microsoft Office, to a list of business standards.

The company says it supports ODF (Open Document Format for XML) because businesses want choice and interoperability for software they deploy. ANSI recommends business best practices, standards and guidelines to a range of industries in the US.

However, there may be other reasons for the move. Days ago, Microsoft slapped the open-source community with litigation threats if distributors and users don’t strike deals to pay for patents Microsoft allegedly holds for technology in Linux and other open-source software.

The company even noted in a Fortune article an open-source alternative to Office that supports ODF, contains 45 of Microsoft’s patents.

“On the one hand, Microsoft is saying ‘Nice standard you’ve got there’, while on the other hand, warning ‘implement it if you dare, but only for a price,’” noted Andrew Updegrove, an advocate for open technology standards and lawyer with US firm Gesmer Updegrove, on his blog.

Updegrove says that by supporting ODF as an ANSI standard, Microsoft is “making it appear it is rising above the squabble to do the right thing”.

Instead, he thinks the move serves as a challenge to vocal ODF supporters to support approval of Open XML as a global standard when a final vote for the draft specification comes before the ISO.

To its credit, Microsoft voted for ODF when it came before the ISO (International Organisation for Standards), while IBM cast the only negative vote for Open XML when it was up for approval by standards organisation Ecma International, Updegrove says.

Battle lines between Microsoft and ODF supporters such as IBM and Sun Microsystems have been drawn for some time, and ODF and Open XML have emerged as the key rival standards for documents. Some government agencies in the US and elsewhere have said they will support ODF as the standard format for documents.

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