Revealed: Office 2010 ballot screen for default file format, OOXML or ODF

Microsoft has made several changes to a Release Candidate version of Office 2010 made available to testers recently. One change in particular prompts users whether they want to use Office Open XML (OOXML) or OpenDocument (ODF) document formats. The prompt only appears in European SKUs of Microsoft Office 2010.

Microsoft announced the ballot screen prompt plans for Office 2010 in August 2009. The software giant issued a "Public Undertaking" which documented the changes Microsoft agreed to make to Office 2010. "Beginning with the release of Office 14 (Office 2010), end users that purchase Microsoft’s Primary PC Productivity Applications in the EEA in both the OEM and retail channel will be prompted in an unbiased way to select default file format (from options that include ODF) for those applications upon the first boot of any one of them," read part of the statement in August 2009. The beta versions of Office 2010 did not include the ballot screen but recent Release Candidate builds have introduced the prompt.

Neowin questioned Microsoft over the recent introduction of the prompt and a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed: "With Office 2010 we are continuing to deliver on our commitments to interoperability and customer choice and make it easy for customers to set their default file format in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint with this prompt box.” The spokesperson also added that Microsoft customers "have complex needs that no single vendor can address" and that the software firm needed to collaborate with the rest of the industry to make their products as interoperable as possible.

Microsoft originally released an XML-based format for Microsoft Excel in Office XP. The company incorporated Excel and Word XML formats, known as Microsoft Office XML formats in the 2003 release of Microsoft Office. In Microsoft Office 2007 the software giant introduced Office Open XML (OOXML), a new ISO/IEC standardized ZIP-based file format that became the default file format for Office 2007 documents. Microsoft also supports OpenDocument (ODF) in Office 2007, and previous versions, through a converter add-in for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Microsoft's implementation of OpenDocument (ODF) support and the adoption of OOXML as the default document format in Office 2007 was heavily criticised in the past by free software campaigners and open source advocats. In 2009, Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation stated that "Microsoft offers a gratis patent license for OOXML on terms which do not allow free implementations." Stallman was concerned that users would "receive Word files in a format that free programs are not even allowed to read." Neowin asked Stallman about the recent introduction of the prompt. "It is clear that Microsoft is trying to make ODF sound like a bad choice, so that few users will really use ODF. I conclude that Microsoft wants to be able to say it offers ODF support, while having few users for it," he said in a statement via email.

In May 2009, the ODF alliance announced that Microsoft's support for OpenDocument (ODF) needed substantial improvements for real-world interoperability. "Unfortunately, serious shortcomings have been identified in Microsoft’s support for ODF. Putting potentially millions of ODF files into circulation that are non-interoperable and incompatible with the ODF support provided by other vendors is a recipe for fragmentation," said ODF alliance spokespeople.

In an email to Neowin, Marino Marcich, executive director of the ODF Alliance said he believed the ballot screen falls short in several areas. Comparing it to the browser ballot screen for Windows 7, Marcich said: "Microsoft offered the EU a ballot screen that gave the browser choices in randomized order, with an unbiased message, including a link for further information provided by the vendor.  But the file format ballot screen gives OOXML the first position.  It gives a biased description of ODF, listing the liabilities of Microsoft's ODF implementation while failing to state any of ODF's advantages."

With the initial negative reactions to Microsoft's Office ballot screen, the software company could face the same issues it had when it first created a ballot screen for browser choice in Windows 7. Microsoft agreed to randomize the ballot screen selection after several rivals complained to the EU. In December 2009, the European Commission said it had accepted Microsoft's commitments to give users browser choice.

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What comes next? Paintshop pro, Notepad++, WinAmp, VLC, WinRar? When I buy a MS OS and other products from MS, I want a full functional system, not stumble in the dark with weird messages boxes to choose something that I don't know.

Dear User,

Hi there. I know you can't tell me what internet browser you're using, or even what an internet browser is (you know, that thing you click on twice on to get to facebook), but do you suppose you could make the educated decision to go with our document format, or the open source file format? there's so many benefits to open source... no no, i know you want to create a letter, but you really need to decide first. It's important.. no i can't really tell you why, but the EU believes so.

Thank so miuch.

Awesome, a ballot screen for something most people don't care about. Can't wait for all complaints about inconsistency amongst documents.

These are the same people who whine because MS Office 2007 had the most complete ODF implementation according to the standard, because they added features that the ODF standard said was there, but it lacked any details abotu how to implement them so they had to make their own implementations.

Maybe the ODF group shoudl actually finish the document standard, and go about making their spreadhseet standard something more advanced than an abbacus, then they can't start whining about others implementation of it and that other call out the facts that ODF doesn't support all the features of an advanced text editor

HawkMan said,
These are the same people who whine because MS Office 2007 had the most complete ODF implementation according to the standard, because they added features that the ODF standard said was there, but it lacked any details abotu how to implement them so they had to make their own implementations.

Maybe the ODF group shoudl actually finish the document standard, and go about making their spreadhseet standard something more advanced than an abbacus, then they can't start whining about others implementation of it and that other call out the facts that ODF doesn't support all the features of an advanced text editor

The ODF standard is already finished, Office 2007 never properly conformed to the standard thus you still required the Sun plugin to output documents that aren't mangled.

Why does some features are disabled with ODF ?

From what i understand this is an XML format that let you create your own tag and add your own feature to it. Am i wrong ?

LaP said,
Why does some features are disabled with ODF ?

From what i understand this is an XML format that let you create your own tag and add your own feature to it. Am i wrong ?

Because it doesn't support all the features of Office which is the reason why Microsoft developed OOXML.

There is a very simple reason for allowing ODF to be set as default, it makes perfect business sense.

Apart from more and more businesses, there is an increasing amount of local, regional and national governments where the use of ODF as default is a legal requirement already or set to become a legal requirement within the next 12 months. If Microsoft wants to keep selling MS Office to these clients they will have to meet these requirements. Considering this could easily be a million desktops globally they would be foolish not to...

The remaining issue is that MS Office support of ODF is currently below-par so they better fix that or risk not passing essential compliance tests in any procurement procedures.

So Microsoft gives the user two choices, one of which assures them that all will be well, and the other of which warns them that they might lose their work when they save? And that's fair? What a totally pointless screen. Still, if it satisfies the lawyers, so be it. Anyway, I've got an EU copy of Windows 7 which I clean-installed myself, and it never gave me the browser ballot screen. Maybe all these lawsuits are fictional... :o)

The European Economic Area (EEA) unites the 27 EU Member States and the three EEA EFTA States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.) into an Internal Market
EEA! EEA! EEA! EEA! :D

OOXML - "This supports all the features"
ODF - "This doesn't support all the features"

What a tough choice. The end user won't benefit from this screen and choice, and what's wrong with OOXML anyway? It's open, isn't that good enough?

I wonder the same. I don't see "open source" as a reason to choose ODF over OOXML. What advantages does it give? With OOXML you can view the open specification and even implement a library, and even publish it as open-source if you want to. I don't think Microsoft would like to sue you in the future. They make technologies for users and developers like me to use. They are not exactly the devil.

Thankfully this is just in the EEA (European Economic Area) whatever the hell that is. I know it's not in America! USA! USA! USA! USA!

danielsmi said,
Thankfully this is just in the EEA (European Economic Area) whatever the hell that is. I know it's not in America! USA! USA! USA! USA!

The EU has a group that protects the rights of the average joe consumer =) in america its ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, you should REALLY be happy with that =D

glad im Dutch <3

Office doesn't come as a pre-installed default in nearly the same manner as IE does (as in, if it is pre-installed, it's typically only trial software). So I don't really see a need for this screen, even if it is nice.

I honestly don't see why it matters what format my files are saved in. I can almost say with certainty that the majority of the world uses Office, and therefore the OOXML or old binary .doc .ppt, file formats. I can also say for certain that the average office user, isn't going to know what the hell OOXML or ODF is without asking a techie friend. Way to confuse people MS.

You're right, I'm sure the average user won't know what the two formats are, but if they read the entire description, it's pretty obvious that OOXML is the preferred one, since it allows a user to use all the features of Office. That would tell me, it's the one I want. The thing is, Microsoft isn't offering this ballot screen because they want to; simply because of all the sqwauking over them not also adopting the ODF specification in their documents. If they never gave people a choice, everyone would be 'Way to give people no choice MS.' No matter what they do, people will find a way to rant about it. The fact that the general users don't even know about such file formats shows that it isn't because there's this huge clamor among most people to offer a choice, just a few who are thinking about themselves and not the general userbase.

I think it would be that if the biggest part of the economical pie uses X for standard, X should be a full standard. Yet even tho MS has way more then half of an economic pie, they always get flamed for their 'standards'.... its democratic =) the biggest party makes the standards, not some 10% share of the pie that forces its 'standards' untop of the one with a 60% (or more) market share.

Besides that, same as the OpenGL vs DirectX bull****, Microsoft wants MORE functionality, which is why MS declined OpenGL and started DirectX, most 'standards' are TOO limited for what companies like MS want to do with it

agreenbhm said,
This is useful b/c the average user knows what the hell this means or gives a crap at all... :P
Exactly, it will just confuse the average user even more.

I wonder if you can set the default using group policy? If so then I bet all OEMs will set to Microsoft so most users wont be effected anyways. Thank god!

Shiranui said,
If you are going to click the ODF box, you might as well skip 2010 and just install OpenOffice....

Yeah, I agree. I think the only way you should select ODF is if you've used OpenOffice previously to create your documents and are now installing Microsoft Office after the fact. I still wouldn't use it though but that's just me.

Both of these were to appease various governments. If not for that, I'm sure Microsoft would have continued shoehorning more features into the Office 97 document format.

I happen to like the OOXML formats - they're much easier to extract data from, and suffer from less spontaneous combustion.

PeterKD said,
not more formats ffs.

.docx and .doc was bad enough.

Agreed. I still have trouble with my Office mac and windows with docx and doc... They should let you open doc but save as docx only maybe. People have to upgrade, end of the argument :P

K, k, k,.. I'm out.

I'm sorry but I really don't care what the advantages of ODF are if I'm going to lose content or editability when saving. I'll use the format that was built and optimized for it. If they want it to be fair, make it so the ODF format supports all of Microsoft Office's features so we don't lose that content or editibility. Microsoft is a software producer just like other companies and regardless of size, popularity or whatever else, should have the right to make it's software however they want.

dogmai said,
I'm sorry but I really don't care what the advantages of ODF are if I'm going to lose content or editability when saving. I'll use the format that was built and optimized for it. If they want it to be fair, make it so the ODF format supports all of Microsoft Office's features so we don't lose that content or editibility. Microsoft is a software producer just like other companies and regardless of size, popularity or whatever else, should have the right to make it's software however they want.

Yea, BUT, it wont happen, OpenSource eventually follows what MS does by delivering compatibility with MS Office products (i.e. OpenOffice is always a few steps behind on supporting MS standards). But MS is 'hated' and 'disliked'. BUT without MS, 90% (or even 99%) of the people using computers, wouldnt have without Microsoft on the desktop market making Windows and stirring up the competition

I really hope everyone realizes that they'll have to select OOXML to make sure their documents look the same on every PC... We've already had hell with .doc and .docx, don't make it even worse now with MORE new stuff that's only partially supported...

Tom W said,

Yes it will, that's what OOXML is...

Ohhhhh And me the average joe user figured OOXML was going to be something totally different from DOCX and DOC :S

Draconian Guppy said,

Ohhhhh And me the average joe user figured OOXML was going to be something totally different from DOCX and DOC :S

Yeah, it seems like they might want to put examples of document extensions for those who might not understand which is which.

Good move on Microsoft's part, but Marino from the ODF should stop complaining. Its not like MS had to go and provide support for ODF.

I could never imagine any of Microsoft's competitors be this generous. Still I think even it was in random order, people will still choose ooxml because it's from Microsoft. And really Microsoft "doesn't" have to support odf it's not their product

murkurie said,
I could never imagine any of Microsoft's competitors be this generous. Still I think even it was in random order, people will still choose ooxml because it's from Microsoft. And really Microsoft "doesn't" have to support odf it's not their product

Well Google Chrome offers other search engine options when you first start it. I think that is sorta impressive. Bing is included by default.

Edited by ObiWanToby, Feb 19 2010, 1:38am :

ObiWanToby said,

Well Google Chrome offers other search engine options when you first start it. I think that is sorta impressive. Bing is included by default.

Interesting point. Though I should note that I have had Google Chrome since August, and I originally had to add Bing manually, but I just checked and it is indeed now one of the main options (added stealthily in a background auto-update). Also, back when I installed it, Google was simply selected and no option was given.

IE has done the search engine provider bit for awhile. I am actually rather shocked that Google does not support the same approach. For instance, it does not offer to add Ask.com if I go to ask.com.

Edited by pickypg, Feb 23 2010, 5:13pm : Added last part.

opensuse said,

bingo!

Yep, that's really the reason that this exists. The second option is for people working in governments, businesses, or some other environment where they know they need to work in ODF. I don't think that this is supposed to be on the same level as the browser ballot.

"But the file format ballot screen gives OOXML the first position. It gives a biased description of ODF"

Right.. why does everyone always have something to complain about?

DarkNovaGamer said,
"But the file format ballot screen gives OOXML the first position. It gives a biased description of ODF"

Right.. why does everyone always have something to complain about?


exactly .. i can't see what is the purpose from this statement rly ?! what do u want from MS to do exactly ?
do u expect them to say we make great office so we can support our competitors' format on on top of ours !

DarkNovaGamer said,
"But the file format ballot screen gives OOXML the first position. It gives a biased description of ODF"

Right.. why does everyone always have something to complain about?


Yeah... It's not even biased. It's true and informative. Biased would be if it said it was worse, but all it's saying is that not all features of Office are supported. Which is true. :p

It even has the part about third party app support about ODF, which would be the "advantage" in this case.

And OOXML is obviously first because that's what Office does best. :p

Edited by Northgrove, Feb 19 2010, 9:32am :