How Microsoft was forced to open Office

In Office 2013, Microsoft was compelled to support the true ODF format as well as the PDF format. Here's how open source won

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PDF gets its due -- almost
The second point Microsoft's blog post highlights is the power of open innovation. The community mostly migrated in 2010 -- with the code -- to a new open source project called LibreOffice. The and LibreOffice project has long supported the creation of Portable Document Format files (PDFs). Microsoft Office eventually copied that same capability, first as an option add-on in Office 2007 and later as a default feature. But LibreOffice also includes a valuable ability create Hybrid PDF files, which can later be reopened and edited with LibreOffice. If you'd like to try editable hybrid PDFs for yourself, this video explains how:

It looks like that feature is about to show up in Office as well:

With this release, Microsoft introduces the option, which we call PDF Reflow, to open PDF files as editable office documents. As Tristan Davis, senior lead program manager for Word, explained: "With this functionality, you can transform your PDFs back into fully editable Word documents, rehydrating headings, bulleted/numbered lists, tables, footnotes, etc. by analyzing the contents of the PDF file."

The only problems we might face here are that Microsoft is limiting the interoperability and compatibility of both ODF support and its version of hybrid PDFs. For unexplained reasons, the company is not going to offer the ability to save files as a backward-compatible ODF file (the version currently supported in Office 2010, ODF 1.1), so it'll be harder for a mixed environment to use ODF. Likewise, I've confirmed that despite supporting the opening of PDF files for editing, Microsoft is not supporting the opening of LibreOffice hybrid PDF files. Perhaps that competitive threat from open source software is still too great?

Just as with the original addition of PDF output, this move to include PDF editability is a welcome embrace of what has been tried and tested as open source. Such is the dynamic of innovation. Ideas trigger ideas, and innovation is the result of inspiration.

The difference here is that open source communities make their ideas freely available to others, so there will be no cease-and-desist letters, no patent lawsuits, and no coercive (and confidential) licensing agreements. That's the way things need to be if we are to see innovation continue to sprout because of a vigorous competitive market.

This article, "How Microsoft was forced to open Office," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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