SherimcleishBy Sheri McLeish

Wow. Microsoft opened up today, taking a nearly 180-degree turn to announce its intent to support ODF, PDF, and XPS. Overall, this is a great, positive move. While unexpected, it’s not surprising. Microsoft has been moving towards more open standards, like with its recent DAISY XML initiative. But it’s also a no-brainer. Sticking exclusively with its competing Open XML was divisive, complicating IT’s efforts to leverage the benefits that open source XML provides.

But before we get too warm and fuzzy about this change of heart, remember: It’s only an announcement of intent. The relationships with the OASIS Technical Committee and the ISO/IEC are not official and confirmed. The success of this strategy will only be realized if there are no hard feelings, and Microsoft doesn’t try to bully into the committees’ efforts. I suspect that Microsoft will be welcomed aboard, however. Certainly because the resources will be welcomed, but also because these organizations would be hard-pressed to deny Microsoft a seat at the table without looking divisive themselves.

There are three major components to today’s announcement:

1. 2007 Microsoft Office Service Pack 2 will add support for Open Document Format (ODF) 1.1, Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) and XML Paper Specification (XPS) within Word 2007, Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007. Support for these standards will be enhanced by the inclusion of ODF 1.0 and 1.1 under the Open Specification Promise.

2. Microsoft has previously expressed its commitment to supporting the Open XML specification that was recently approved by ISO/IEC members (IS 29500). In the next version of Office, codenamed O14, Microsoft will update the support it provides for IS29500, the Open XML specification that was recently approved by ISO/IEC members.

3. To ensure its products support the ongoing evolution of Open XML and ODF, Microsoft said it will take an active role in the development of both Open XML and ODF formats and in the SC34 working group designed to improve interoperability between the two. Microsoft said it also intends to join the OASIS Technical Committee for ODF that is currently developing ODF 1.2.

The impact of these initiatives will take years to be realized, and it remains to be seen if Microsoft can play nice and not try to overextend its influence. If it works, however, the open source XML party will be in full swing.