At last, Corel announces support for ODF, Open XML

Ottawa (ON) - Some decisions take time. Answering the question whether to implement support for the Open Document Format in its Word Perfect software or not, took Corel more than a year. At last, the long-time supporter of ODF today announced that it will update WordPerfect Office to support the XML-based ODF as well as Microsoft's Open Office XML format.

According to a press releases issued today, the productivity suite will allow users to view and edit Open Office XML (OOXML) and Open Document Format (ODF) files beginning in mid-2007. The company's stated goal is to "provide maximum compatibility and archival functions" by assuming a neutral position between ODF and OOXML - "independent of Microsoft, Adobe and other vendors' efforts to propagate their respective standards."

While Corel so far is the only company to have announced direct and integrated support for both upcoming formats, the company has struggled to commit to either one of the formats over the past 18 months. The company has been a member of the open standards organization OASIS and the ODF alliance, but has declined to support the ODF formats in its products until today. Company representatives were quoted criticizing that the format was not adopted or being used by software developers or organizations.

IBM was one of the first companies to announce support for ODF in commercial products in May of last year, but adoption of ODF in fact was admittedly slow. However, Corel's delayed decision didn't help either and did not sit well with other member of the ODF Alliance and Oasis. Oasis' legal counsel Gesmer Updegrove attacked the firm's position and indicated back then that Microsoft's $125 million investment in 2000, which basically saved Corel from bankruptcy, may have been the real reason why Corel did not include ODF support into Word Perfect.

Accordingly, Updegrove today reacted with a posting in which he welcomed Corel's "better late than never" decision for ODF. According to the post, Corel representatives were present at a strategy meeting of ODF proponents at an IBM facility in Armonk, NY ion November 4, 2005, "but then declined to commit to support ODF. Instead, it adopted a "wait and see" attitude." Updegrove believes that today's announce from Corel "makes perfect sense, just as it would have a year ago. The only question is why it took so long, especially given the fact that Sun has been aggressively promoting its StarOffice product suite to government customers, and, in particular among open source software that supports ODF, has also met with success in the marketplace."

Corel has an answer to that question. Richard Carriere, general manager of office productivity at the company, explained in a conversation that the delay was a result of focus on certain features at a certain time, limited resources and customer demand. While he said that Corel was involved early in ODF, one of the firm's developers even wrote the initial specification several years ago, the company "did not see a reason to put the horse in front of the cart until there was real user demand," Carriere said.

Also, he mentioned that at the time of the release of Word Perfect Office X3, the integration of PDF received a higher priority status than ODF. "This is where we saw user demand," Carriere said. "While we are a sizeable software company, we do not have the resources to do as many things at the same time as, for example, Microsoft."

Of course, the fact that Corel has waited with the integration of ODF and now announces that it is integrating ODF in combination with OOXML, could suggest that Microsoft played some role in that game or, at least, that Corel really had no choice but to quickly support these new formats at a time when the market leader is moving to support both formats. Carriere denied that Microsoft has any say in the firm's direction, despite its investment in 2001. "In 2003, Corel was bought completely by a venture capital firm. At that time, Microsoft stopped to have any investment in the company." And even between 2001 and 2003, Microsoft's influence in Corel may have been very limited due to the nature of the "passive" investment in Corel.

Carriere, however, conceded that Microsoft's decision to support OOXML and ODF was a motivating factor to integrate those two formats into Word Perfect. "If you want to stay relevant, you always have to take into consideration what the dominant player does." And, he indicated that there still isn't a huge demand for ODF at this time: "The demand right now is really to help customers decide what is best for their needs. We are sitting down with them to make that decision. Today, for example, even the most aggressive government agencies aren't ready to move to ODF."

He confirmed that Corel will continue to be supporting ODF, but declined to make a prediction, which of the two formats - ODF and OOXML - may be winning the XML format battle: "It is way too early to make that call."

Microsoft will be offering native support for OOXML in the upcoming Office 2007. ODF will be supported in Office 2007 through a downloadable "bridge". The specification of OOXML recently reached final draft status.