Yesterday I had lunch with two emissaries of both OpenOffice.org (the well known Open Source concurrent from Microsoft Office) and OASIS (the organization that works on OpenDocument). After the project launching, I had contacted both organizations: the first one to ask for contributors (our plug-in is designed to allow its use by other applications, so we thought that OpenOffice.org could be interested in joining the team to make its product open and save docx files) and the second to have its agreement to use OASIS logo in our plug-in (agreement that we never had, so we decided to use another picture).

The two emissaries wanted to tell us how we were seen by OpenOffice.org and OASIS, and also to ask us some questions regarding our position. So we learnt that the OpenOffice.org team considered us as "traitors" (who are those traitors that work for the Big Satan Microsoft?) and that people from OASIS "did not like us" (even if they don't really care about our little company). In fact that was not a definitive judgement: they wanted to know exactly in which camp we were - because in this war, you cannot remain independant, you have to choose your side. So by default, as we work for Microsoft, we are seen as ennemies; but if we show good willing and for instance join the OpenDocument consortium, that could be a sign that we may on the contrary be friends.

There were subtle differences in OpenOffice.org and OASIS positions: OpenOffice.org is a concurrent from Microsoft on the office applications market. So if we work for Microsoft, we are either a Microsoft's unsignificant subsidiary or if not at least "mercenaries" - we work for those who pay the best, without any moral judgement. OASIS speaks a different language: they support OpenDocument - not OpenOffice.org - and should be happy for any initiative that tends to spread OpenDocument usage and interoperability. But in fact, as Microsoft is developing a concurrent format, their initiative must necessary be an attack against OpenDocument - so they are also against it (I must add that OASIS does not have any "official" position regarding the plug-in - and how could it be different? Microsoft is a member of OASIS! So when I speak from "OASIS", you should hear "most people from OASIS"). We could wonder how the add-in could be an attack against ODF. The answer is simple: by not implementing ODF as a default format and only sponsoring a third-party Open Source project, they discourage users to switch to ODF.

So in definitive, that's quite simple: there is a war (a real war) between Microsoft and the rest of the world. In this war, there is no middle position: only friends and ennemies. If you're not a friend (that means: if you're not fighting Microsoft), then you are an ennemy.

What bothers me in all this speech is this extreme manicheism - on one side, the good guys; on the other, the bad guys. Clever Age is an independant IT consulting company. We don't have any commercial partnership with anyone. We don't belong to any organization that would influence us in the decisions we take for our clients. We are technology-agnostic - we work on .NET, Java, PHP projects indifferently. People at Clever Age like Open Source (that's not a secret). We use Linux and OpenOffice.org a lot (that's not a secret either). When Microsoft consultants come to our office, they don't feel comfortable, because they know they will be attacked from everywhere. When we have to advise our clients on a technological choice, we look at their interests (short, middle and long-term benefits), not ours. So are we just mercenaries? If we were so, we wouldn't have suggested to develop the project in an Open Source way; we wouldn't have put it on SourceForge (CodePlex would have been fine enough); we wouldn't have designed it so that it can be reused by other applications. Are we manipulated? I can't be sure that we are not - only the future will show what was behind all of this - if there is something behind, what I personnaly don't think.

I understand very well that OpenOffice.org is a concurrent of MS Office. So their primary interest would be the project's failure, so that people enforced to work with OpenDocument won't have another choice but using OpenOffice.org or any other ODF compatible product (hey, that reminds me of something with another well-known document format...). But that's a very short view: could anyone imagine that Microsoft would let such a thing happen without reacting? For sure, OpenOffice.org has no special interest in Word being fully compatible with OpenDocument - but let's see this fact as unavoidable. On the contrary, OpenOffice.org will have an interest in being fully compatible with OpenXml (unless you think OpenXml has no future at all - but that would be a daring forecast). That's why I posted an annoucement on OOo dev mailing list to advertise for the project. On a technical point of view, there is an interest to work together. Science is often seen as a way to put bridges between people in war. Let's forget this aerial war for a while and work together on doing the best converter between both formats.

I have more difficulties to understand OASIS position in the debate: they see Microsoft's initiative as an attack against OpenDocument due to the fact that Microsoft does not fully support the format. OK, the integration in Word could be improved (and can still be in the future - you can for instance have a look at Patrick Schmid's investigations). But in this case, the only logical attitude would be to do the maximum for the conversion to work the best as possible! The add-in is an OpenSource project: anyone can contribute and improve it. I personnaly don't feel like Microsoft is trying to make the project fail - but if this happened, nothing would prevent other parties to take over the project and make it live.

What I see is that Microsoft is taking a new turn on the interoperability field - yes it goes slowly, very slowly, but hey! that's Microsoft! We're not speaking of a little agile company. Yes, they could have done better regarding ODF compatibility, but they could have done less as well. So we have here an opportunity to do a good job, to allow MS Office users to work with ODF documents: let's give this initiative a chance. I'm not saying that OpenOffice.org or OASIS hostility are a threat for the success of this project - but for sure things wouldn't go worse if they supported it!