Thoughts on the Microsoft Office ODF Workshop

August 1 2008

This past Wednesday I attended the Microsoft Office ODF Workshop in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft called this workshop to have a public review of the work they are doing to implement the Open Document Format (ODF) 1.1 standard into Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2. Before I go into some observations, I have to commend Microsoft on the level of technical detail and openness at this event provided. None of the executive marketing speak was present nor the 'there are no droids here' hand waving that I have gotten from Office PM's in the past at Microsoft events. We had a great conversation and got hands on access to the current ODF implementation.

Two key things I walked away with from the event:

1. Microsoft is going to implement ODF to the letter of the spec (minus one public change which will be a custom namespace in Excel to handle macros). While multiple people admitted they wanted to make recommendations to enhance ODF in the future, the first implementation will be as exact as possible. Microsoft really wants people to get the message that they are changing their attitude towards standards. While I will be cautious on this attitude long term, the people in the room all seemed to believe and live this.

2. Microsoft listened more than any other time I have been at an event they have run. Many times, they purposely asked people to expand or detail their comments. None of the 'we are Microsoft and our way is the only way' thought process I have gotten at other Microsoft Office events. Maybe that is because I bleed yellow so openly, but this was very different.

Other thoughts:

  • There were some major players in the ODF space present at the meeting. I am not going to out those companies who have not publically stated they were there ... but IBM was not
  • Doug Mahugh was the host of the event. I think Doug likes this role far more than what he was involved with last year ;)
  • I got to meet Brian Jones and Steve McGibbon for the first time. Great to finally meet Brian. Steve really has some *cough* interesting thoughts *cough* around his former employer Lotus. But we had a great chat and I believe I was the first to show him the Notes 8 Standard client in person.
  • Jesper Lund Stocholm was in attendance as well and has blogged some of his observations.
  • Microsoft invited the ODF Technical Committee and the OASIS group and many of them attended.
  • There was not one single Mac laptop in the room ... and there were people in the room you would expect to have one. I found that so surprising
  • Building 20, of the PAC building, is one of the coolest customer facing event locations I have ever been too. It continues to impress
  • The Microsoft PM's in the room were really open to suggestions and thoughts
  • Microsoft is going to have to make some hard decisions on how to make stuff work in ODF that is not supported. The decision comes down to preserving how it looks or allowing it to be editable. Personally, I want the user to have some say in that choice. The first pass will be decisions made by Microsoft.
  • I blasted the "If you save this document in the selected format, you might lose some content ..." dialog. What I want is a "Show Me" button next to "Yes" and "No" that will give a visible preview of what will change. Think Track Changes in Word on steroids in all three apps. Let the user choose how the conversion will work. For instance, if an Excel chart in Office 2007 can not convert completely because ODF does not have that chart type, let the user choose been changing the chart type or saving a static image. The Microsoft people in the room were very open to the dialog around this idea.
  • Microsoft hosted a dinner in the evening and I had some great conversations with the other attendees and Microsoft folks.
  • I got to connect with Gary Devendorf and Amy Blumenfield for lunch on Thursday. Good to see both of them!

Office ODF Support Hands On

When we got time to work with a pre beta of Office 2007 Service Park 2. The machine I was using also had 2.4. I downloaded and installed Lotus Symphony 1.0. My tests were creating documents in Lotus Symphony or, saving them in ODF, and opening them in Office. I would then make changes and save them and open the files back into Symphony or OoO. I used presentations for most of my testing because they are the most complex and require pixel perfect conversion. Overall, the software is early, but most things convert. I had problems with some of the Smart Art, fancy image blocks, and text blocks that overlaid custom layouts. For instance, I used the included Pitchbook presentation template and had issues with multiple charts and tables on the same slide. I also had issues with some of the fancy stuff in the OOOCon 2007 Opening Session slides. Microsoft took copies of all of these and detailed notes. Since we are not even in public beta I will keep an open mind about this.

One of the key thoughts I came away with has to do with Microsoft implementing ODF as complete as possible. We had a big discussion on what should Microsoft do if in implementing ODF exactly exposes a bug in or Lotus Symphony? Do they propagate the bug to ensure that the end user gets a file that matches? I agree with Microsoft's decision to not propagate the bugs. It will be the first time that there is real public eye pressure on to make sure their ODF implementation is perfect. Competition is a good thing.

Just to answer this now, I do not have a release date for Office 2007 SP 2. When I asked, I was given a pretty funny answer (it will ship by the time it is snowing in Seattle ... and for those not familiar with Seattle, it snows like one or two days a year). I am guessing I will get my hands on a beta later in 2008 and we will see a release in 2009 some time. It makes sense ... Office 2007 SP 2 is something Microsoft wants out before they start talking about Office 14 next year.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it was a great workshop. If Microsoft continues to work with the standards community like this, we might see some great things in the future. Well done Microsoft ... Round 1 was a success. Everyone is now watching to see if you continue this dialog and openness and what happens in the next few months.

I want to personally think Doug Mahugh and Brian Jones and members of Brian's Open XML SDK team for listening to what PSC is doing with PresentationML. I had some pretty difficult things to say about the SDK, and instead of trying to snow me over, they listened and agreed and made suggestions. I am really excited about the future of the Open XML SDK.