I’ve been listening lately to a Linux oriented podcast called The Linux Link Techshow, which is rather interesting – each week they bring in new guests related to Linux specifically and open-source software generally, and they are usually rather interesting (and correction – its not a podcast – as they keep saying, its a live show that you can also download old episodes as podcasts).
I’m a bit behind times, as they recorded episode 155 this week, while I’ve recently finished hearing #143 (they have really long episodes – sometimes 2 hours per episode, and I mostly listen to it in my car, and then only when I’m alone; which basicly comes down to 30 minutes on my way to work and 20 minutes on the way back, and on the way to work they have to compete against Galey-Tzahal’s morning chatters, which I also find rather interesting most of the time).
Anyway, it sometimes amazes me how people who are into F/LOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software), and have been doing open-source stuff for several years, simply have no clue how the reall world works :-). In TLLTS episode #143, The guys talk with Joe Brockmeier – the editorial director for the Linux.com web site, about lots of stuff and one point that was raised was the recent issue with Microsoft wanting to add PDF export capabilities to their new Microsoft Office suite and Adobe’s objections and lawsuit threats [FreeSoftwareMagazine.com]. The question of the day was – why ? How come Adobe only goes after Microsoft and not after OpenOffice.org ? And what will happen if Adobe does go after OpenOffice.org. Also Came up was the question of Microsoft’s non-support for the industry standard document file format – OpenDocument and whether OpenOffice.org gaining some ground would cause Microsoft to add support for that format. One can clearly visualize the question marks floating over the heads of all those present for the recording, when its all rather simple really.
As Edward Macnaghten from Free Software Magazine correctly points out in the link above – its all about market share and incumbents in the market: Adobe is the incumbent company in the PDF creation market – they are the largest provider of PDF generation, editing and annotating tools and they don’t need to compete with others in that market on price, performance or features (quite less then Microsoft in the operating system and office suites market, due to complex issues I’m not going to get into here, but still). All they have to do is defend their market against possible threats and let everyone come to them. Adobe sees OpenOffice.org and other similar software suites that allow the creation of PDF files as a rather niche players and a non-threat (quite correctly, I believe). Microsoft – on the other hand – are a big company with deep pockets, but worse – they own the office suite market which is bigger the the PDF generation market and if Microsoft can leverage that market against Adobe’s PDF business (which they threaten to do with the new MS-Office supporting “Save as” to PDF) then Adobe is all but done for (in that market). Adobe, taking a cue from Netscape’s case (and others) are, quite understandably, up in arms to stop Microsoft with any means necessary.
Will Adobe go after OpenOffice.org after they finish with Microsoft? Quite unlikely. They currently don’t perceive OpenOffice.org as a threat – otherwise they would have acted by now – OpenOffice.org has featured PDF export from day zero, with a prominent PDF icon on the default toolbar. Will Adobe try to get OpenOffice.org to drop the PDF export feature if they ever become bigger players? I personally don’t think they’ll have a case – after all this time they wouldn’t have a valid excuse to sell the judge on why they waited so many years to act. They can try to stop Microsoft now, using Copyright legislation – and if that fails – anti-trust legislation, only because Microsoft is starting to do it right now: possibly taking a cue from OpenOffice.org – maybe Microsoft considers it a threat after all. Which brings us to the next point – OpenDocument.
Microsoft, being the incumbent company in the office suite market has no reason to innovate – with the MS-Office suite which is simply incompatible with any other office suite on the market and as thus locks-in all of its users to current and future versions of it, everyone who wants to be able to interoperate with other people using text documents and spreadsheets has to come to them. OpenOffice.org hasn’t managed to put a dent in this at all (well, maybe a little). As such, Microsoft simply has no motivation whatsoever to support OpenDocument file formats: would they have done that, they would have allowed all of their users to save documents in interoperable formats which would allow their users to easily switch to a different office suite vendor – thereby opening the market to free competition on price, performance and features where currently there is none. If Microsoft would have been the upstart trying to gain traction in the market, that would have been the sensible thing to do, but as the incumbent they stand everything to lose and nothing to gain from such a move. It would have been gross negligence on Microsoft side to support OpenDocument, and doing so could possibly even open Microsoft management to be sued by their share holders for being utterly stupid and failing to do the right thing by doing nothing ;-).
As I don’t think its likely that OpenOffice.org would gain such massive market share to make them the incumbent in anything remotely resembling the near future, and as we do want Microsoft Office to support OpenDocument easily and out-of-the-box – most of the market is still going to run Microsoft Word in the forseable future, and I still want them to be able to read documents I create and for me to read documents they create – the only method left is to get governmental entities (such as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) to enforce OpenDocument as the standard document format for government operations. Such decisions make perfect sense for a governmental body, as it prevents vendor lock-in (which is always bad for the consumer) and allows archives of old documents to be easily retained without fear of the documents being unreadable in the future after the proprietary software vendor has ceased distributing the software used to read such documents. If large enough governmental computing budgets are put on the stake for Microsoft, it will eventually give in and offer OpenDocument integration into its office suite. Or so I believe anyway – it quite possibly could all be in my head…