UK Educational Body Recommends Native Support for ODF in Office 2007
Becta released an interim report regarding Windows Vista and Office 2007 that recommends Microsoft provide native support for the OpenDocument Format by mid-2007. The report generally recommended against early adoption of either, Windows Vista or Office 2007, and called for the ICT industry to provide "real choice" in application software. In its press release, Becta states "The costs of a widespread deployment of Vista are currently estimated to be around £160 million while the benefits are unclear."
The report suggested that none of Office 2007's 176 new features were "must have" features for educational institutions and questioned the benefits of the Aero interface in light of its cost. The report recommends that Microsoft find ways to improve interoperability with earlier versions of its own office suite. The report points out the challenges facing students when transferring documents between Office 2000 and Office 2003, as we well as the fact that none of the competing office suites currently offers converters or filters for Office 2007 documents.
The research firm behind the report, Oakleigh Consulting, reported that Microsoft's commitment to the ODF interoperability standard changed from "denial" to "grudging acceptance" during the course of the research, and described Microsoft's commitment as "dynamic". Of 1200 interoperability tests involving various versions of Microsoft Office and competing applications, the only satisfactory results involved different versions of Microsoft Office. Tests involving the other office suites failed because none of them support the Office 2007 formats. The document warns that adopting Office 2007 prior to the inclusion of ODF support will cause problems for students and parents using non-Microsoft applications.
According to the report, "Using the default file format of Microsoft Office 2007 therefore has the potential to exacerbate ‘digital divide’ issues as a result of the loss of interoperability with free-to-use products." People who cannot afford a copy of Microsoft Office (or simply don't care to pay the price) tend to use the freeware and Free Software offerings. With limited ODF support in Office 2007 and no Office 2007 support in the competing applications, the loss of interoperability affects the poor the most.
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