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July 27, 2006

How Google Could Push the ODF Alliance


Sebastian Moser is a young Austrian software engineer that is especially interested in what's going on behind the scenes at Google and other web companies.






This month, Google joined the ODF Alliance, which led to speculations about what they want to achieve with this step. It is logical that they will support the OpenDocument file formats in their products through importing & exporting (Writely, Google Spreadsheets) and previewing them in Gmail.

But Google's support could go further and could, in fact, solve the main problem that hinders the OpenDocument format from spreading widely: the distribution.

As long as ODF files can't be opened on most computers, there won't be a big market for it, and OpenOffice.org/StarOffice customers will continue to export all their files to *.doc. This is where Google could step in.

Their toolbar, which is available for both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, has a very big user base and a market share in the toolbar-space of almost 50%. Google could use the toolbar to deliver an ODF-plug-in for Microsoft Word, which installs silently in the background and gives users the ability to open and save ODF-files in Microsoft Office without thinking about the format.

The advantage for the ODF-alliance is clear, and Google could profit from that in different ways:

  • Toolbar installations: The ODF-support could be another killer-feature for their toolbar, leading to more and more people installing the toolbar, which is responsible for a large amount of Google's revenues.
  • Smoothing the way for Google's own products: An open file format doesn't only help alternative Office applications, but also Google's own business. Although Microsoft's Open XML is fully documented, Google should and could never trust a company that has control over a file format and is at the same time one of the biggest competitors.
    So, having a wide-spread, real open file format could make it much easier for Google to create a widely-used Web Office.
  • Beating Microsoft: The struggle between Google and Microsoft has long become to a personal game between Eric Schmidt and Steve Ballmer, with Google currently being more successful than Microsoft.
We'll see what will come out in the end, probably I'm completely wrong. But anyway, let me know what you think about it.

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