In the past few days, the rhetoric on both sides of the file format debate seems to have heated up. The ODF Alliance has been launched and it is a good thing on the part of the developers of the software that will use that format. What seems to have really gotten people heated up is the fact that we had the temerity to point out that the software they are seeking to advance is predicated on commercial interest. What seems even stranger to me, is that the blogs of those most vocal in this discussion (Simon, Bob) are incensed that we are driven by commercial intent as well.
....sssshhh...we're huntin' wabbits...I'm going to let out a really big secret in my blog tonight. Microsoft wants to continue to deliver commercial value in its Office products, and then we are going to...wait for it...sell that product on the market. If we are really sneaky, I think we might try to do the same thing with Vista. No one will see that coming.
On to other painfully obvious points that seem to be getting glossed over. SUN has economic interests in seeing StarOffice and OpenOffice become successful. IBM has similar interests in seeing Workplace become successful and, in the interim, may even continue to push SmartSuite for a while. How they choose to monetize the success of the software (consulting engagements vs. software sales, which both mean booking revenue) is based on how they are structuring their businesses.
The fact is, Microsoft continues to invest enormous R&D into the improvement of our existing products while adding to them innovative new technologies or full products to augment value further. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint continue to be improved on a feature set level while the addition of product such as OneNote increases the value of Office as a whole. In fact, the investment we made in the TabletPC - hard core R&D behind the screens, pens, ink as a data type...go even further to augment the value in the applications above. I can redline documents in digital form with a stylus in one hand and a cup of hot tea in the other. Office is enabling me to work in a way that is more suitable to my style and, as a user, I care more about the this kind of feature than about the format in which that file will be stored. Moreover, is it a reasonable assumption that I would want to have the Office ink features supported in future doc formats so that my work today is accessible tomorrow?
I'm not an expert in the OpenOffice world, (this is a genuine question and not meant to be snarky) are ink annotations supported in the product? And if so, are they supported in ODF?
As for the ODF Alliance, let me say it again - I think it is a good thing they are building an ecosystem around the format and have people building compelling technologies. That is what competition is supposed to be about. For both SUN and IBM, their products are still maturing - and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. It is in their economic best interest to see ODF be successful as it presents an alternative to the Microsoft formats. For the market that is a good thing - markets are improved with a broader range of choice. The reality is that the conflict over the formats increases awarness of their products and creates an opportunity against the incumbant.
The fact that we are listening to our customers (basing our formats on XML, moving the format into an open standard, working with industry partners and customers on the spec, supporting .pdf in the product as well as numerous other standard formats) and putting forward arguments that favor our products seems obvious to me and not at all disingenuous. Wrapping yourself in a the flag of openness and then being upset when it is pointed out that you too have economic interests that drive your behavior seems a bit less direct.
Simon called me a sophist <sigh>, I'm just glad it wasn't worse than that.