Microsoft’s call to its friends in the software community to contribute to the government’s consultation on open document formats seems to have worked.
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Although, perhaps not as Microsoft intended.
On 19th February last week, Microsoft’s UK chief Michel Van der Bel wrote an open letter to the software giant’s UK partners encouraging them to comment on government plans to standardise on ODF for document formats.
In a carefully worded letter, Van der Bel set out Microsoft’s case for adding its preferred standard, OOXML, to the list of approved formats. OOXML is a standard that was created by Microsoft, pushed through the International Standards Organisation by Microsoft despite heavy criticism, and is pretty much only used by Microsoft Office – even though the default .docx Word format is not fully compliant with the strict OOXML standard.
He was very precise in his wording, trying to make it clear that Microsoft wasn’t against ODF, nor did it expect partners to specifically promote OOXML. “It is not our job to change your mind,” wrote Van der Bel, “but we feel we should ensure you are properly appraised of a situation that may have an impact on your business.”
It was of course a thinly veiled attempt by Microsoft to get as many of its friends to oppose the government proposals and force its own OOXML standard into the mix.
Well, it has half worked.
Before Van der Bel’s letter, by my count the consultation website set up by the Cabinet Office had received just 12 submissions, of which all but two were supportive of the ODF plan.
Since the letter was published, (and as of writing this post) the number of submissions has grown to 170.
Great, you might think if you were Microsoft. Not quite…
By my reading, I could find only one of the extra 158 submissions that supported OOXML. It seems that Microsoft has wholeheartedly succeeded in encouraging the software community to contribute to the consultation, just as it asked them to, and as a result has demonstrated the overwhelming preference for ODF and the depth of negativity towards OOXML.
So, if the proposal for ODF is ratified, don’t forget to thank Microsoft for its efforts in helping it through.