Microsoft to Help Sourcesense Open Office

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 25, 2008

The open source community has been suspicious of Microsoft for years - and often, one must admit, with good reason. But when the company does something that appears to actually benefit open source, it's worth noting that too.

One such move is the partnership, announced today, between Microsoft and major European open source integrator Sourcesense.

The joint press release says the two companies will "collaborate on the strategy, development and deployment of open source solutions for the Microsoft Office product suite." That's vague enought, but there are also concrete details: the initial goal is to contribute to the continued development of the Apache POI project.

The goal of Apache POI is to provide a pure Java interface for reading and writing Microsoft Office documents. Right now, the support for different document types is uneven: Excel is well-supported, Word, PowerPoint, and Visio less so. None of the new Office 2007 formats are supported by POI in release versions yet, though development is underway. Obviously there's room for improvement here, and depending on the details of their collaboration with Microsoft (details which we are not privy to), Sourcesense should be well-poised to turn Apache POI into a serious reference application in its space.

Open source projects can obviously benefit by having a thorough implementation of the Microsoft Office formats that they can use. Just as obviously, Microsoft could use this effort to argue for the acceptance of OOXML as a standard - acceptance that has so far been slow to materialize. 

Of course, many open source advocates will be wary of Microsoft's motives here until we see what sort of code actually gets contributed to the project. But given that Apache POI itself is licensed under the Apache License 2.0, Microsoft's room for shenanigans appears pretty limited. Is it possible that we could be moving towards an era of co-opetition, replacing the distrust and FUD that have historically marked Microsoft's relationship with open source?