The Burton Group has published a refreshingly nonpartisan analysis of XML-based document standards and formats, recommending that large organizations use Microsoft's Open XML format over competing standards ODF in most cases.
The report, published on Monday and available for free, tries to cut through the highly charged political environment while recognizing the huge financial stake in document formats.
It concludes that organizations that already use Microsoft's Office should use the Office Open XML (OOXML) file formats which are the default in Office 2007.
The authors also predict that OOXML will gain significant market adoption, which will pose a greater competitive threat to most open-source vendors.
The OpenDocument Format, or ODF, will continue to have a market influence. ODF, which is the default file format of the open-source OpenOffice suite, has steadily seen growing interest from government customers concerned with long-term access to documents.
But Burton Group argues that choosing OpenOffice or ODF is done primarily as an anti-Microsoft move.
"For now ODF should be seen as more of an anti-Microsoft political statement than an objective technology selection," according to the report.
ODF, developed at the U.S. standards group OASIS, is an ISO standard, a significant certification to government customers.
Microsoft is in the process of trying to gain ISO ratification for OOXML, which has been certified a standard at Ecma International, another standards body. An important technical resolution meeting isin late February, which will influence whether OOXML becomes an ISO standard or not.
The authors say that the vendor support for ODF--backed by Novell, IBM, and Sun Microsystems--is primarily a competitive strategy to loosen Microsoft's influence on XML-based documents. It says that Sun, which created the OpenOffice open-source project, continues to be the primary influence on technical development.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has created OOXML for its own financial gain but also because it knows that standards and interoperability are vital to its acceptance among government customers.
The study does offer one important caveat: Microsoft needs to live up to its commitments to make OOXML a standard that includes input from other vendors and customers.
"If Microsoft abuses standards initiatives, the market response will be swift and severe," the study predicts.
Meanwhile, attorney and ODF advocate Andrew Updegrove said that the announcement on Monday of another European Union antitrust investigation of Microsoft could jeapordize its OOXML standards bid. Part of the investigation looks at whether the company's file formats are "sufficiently interoperable" with competing products, like ODF, Updegrove notes in his blog.
Not supporting ODF natively--relying instead on third-party projects--could be viewed as insufficient, he said.
"By sticking exclusively with OOXML, Microsoft has been pursuing a high risk, high wire act ever since ODF was adopted by Massachusetts in 2005. Today, it appears that this strategy just (became) riskier," Updegrove wrote.