May 5, 2006 12:46 PM PDT

Microsoft Office to get a dose of OpenDocument

A group of software developers have created a program to make Microsoft Office work with files in the OpenDocument format, a move that would bridge currently incompatible desktop applications.

Gary Edwards, an engineer involved in the open-source OpenOffice.org project and founder of the OpenDocument Foundation, on Thursday discussed the software plug-in on the Web site Groklaw.

The new program, which has been under development for about year and finished initial testing last week, is designed to let Microsoft Office manipulate OpenDocument format (ODF) files, Edwards said.

"The ODF Plugin installs on the file menu as a natural and transparent part of the 'open,' 'save,' and 'save as' sequences. As far as end users and other application add-ons are concerned, ODF Plugin renders ODF documents as if (they) were native to MS Office," according to Edwards.

If the software, which is not yet available, works as described, it will be a significant twist to an ongoing contest between Microsoft and the backers of OpenDocument, a document format gaining more interest lately, particularly among governments.

Microsoft will not natively support OpenDocument in Office 2007, which will come out later this year. Company executives have said that there is not sufficient demand and OpenDocument is less functional that its own Office formats.

Having a third-party product to save OpenDocument files from Office could give OpenDocument-based products a bump in the marketplace, said Stephen O'Grady, a RedMonk analyst.

OpenDocument is the native format for the OpenOffice open-source desktop productivity suite and is supported in others, including KOffice, Sun Microsystems' StarOffice and IBM's Workplace.

"To the extent that you get people authoring documents in a format that is natively compatible with OpenDocument, that's an important first step over the long term" to migrating people to OpenDocument-based applications, O'Grady said.

On the other hand, the OpenDocument plug-in could keep people from adopting software built by any of Microsoft Office's competitors. People who want to save documents in ODF can now use Microsoft Office, rather than OpenOffice or other Office alternatives. "It's potentially a very positive thing for Microsoft," O'Grady said.

On Friday, Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft's information-worker business, said the company did not work with the developers of the plug-in. But Yates said he was not fully surprised about the new program's development either.

"We have always expected that third parties would create tools to enable the conversion of information from one file format to the other," Yates said.

"We have not seen the work, but perhaps it is evidence of how market-driven technology solutions can address the interoperability needs of customers," he said.

Mass migration
In a related development, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, a highly visible example of OpenDocument's momentum, on Wednesday publicly stated the need for an ODF Office plug-in.

On Massachusetts' procurement Web site, it issued a request for information for a "plug-in component or other converter options to be used with Microsoft Office that would allow Microsoft Office to easily open, render and save to ODF files."

Massachusetts also said it is looking for a utility to convert documents saved in the binary Microsoft Office formats to XML-based format and ODF.

CONTINUED: Fork in the road…
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24 comments

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Cuts both ways
Sure this allows folks to use competing suites more easily (as the article states) since they can interop in their desired format, but it also allows institutions that have decided to go ODF-only select Office as their standard suite.

For example, any financial folks (and I'm sure a state gov't has many) will always select Excel over any of the competing applications. (Can't speak for other Office apps so much...)
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wouldn't knock it.
I wouldn't knock those who would choose MS Office with OpenDocument support.

They probably have a good reason to spend several hundred dollars per seat over the free alternatives that support OpenDocument.

Overall, its a good thing. If it helps OpenDocument become a default document format for Office type documents, I'm all for universal support by both free and commercial Office suites.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Cuts both ways
Sure this allows folks to use competing suites more easily (as the article states) since they can interop in their desired format, but it also allows institutions that have decided to go ODF-only select Office as their standard suite.

For example, any financial folks (and I'm sure a state gov't has many) will always select Excel over any of the competing applications. (Can't speak for other Office apps so much...)
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wouldn't knock it.
I wouldn't knock those who would choose MS Office with OpenDocument support.

They probably have a good reason to spend several hundred dollars per seat over the free alternatives that support OpenDocument.

Overall, its a good thing. If it helps OpenDocument become a default document format for Office type documents, I'm all for universal support by both free and commercial Office suites.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Since....
... what was said by Edwards is that "The ODF Plugin installs on the file menu as a natural and transparent part of the 'open,' 'save,' and 'save as' sequences. As far as end users and other application add-ons are concerned, ODF Plugin renders ODF documents as if (they) were native to MS Office....."; then it will appear that we have yet a long road to travel in order to realise certain functionalities within both of these office products - Microsoft Office and Open Office; as we now know them - they both have borrowed (perhaps heavily so) from IBM Lotus SmartSuite leaving them without certain functionalities and obviously, the real possibilities of certain limitations.

As a point of reference here is an extract from a 1998 Lotus Development Corporation communication; Re: Concerning the issues with 1-2-3 that are talked about in the documentation you gave me, most of the issues are related to converting files between older and newer versions of product and converting documents between Lotus and Microsoft. Anytime a file is saved backwards or saved with an older file format than the format the file was created under, such as saving a 1-2-3 , 97 file for Windows 95 into a WK1 format for DOS, then naturally we are expected to loose certain features due to technology and features that are present now that were not present 8 - 10 years ago. Similarly, if we try to convert a file from Lotus into Excel or Excel into Lotus, due to differences in the products not every feature will be converted perfectly with the file filters that are available. Both Lotus and Microsoft create similar spreadsheet programs; however, there are several differences in both programs and these differences will remain to distinguish the products apart. We do try to design conversion filters that will allow as much of the file formats as possible to be exchanged and converted without disrupting the actual file design and format.

In one of your letters you made mention of the @IRR and @ERR functions in the 1-2-3 product. By design the @IRR (notably "absent" in Open Office) will calculate the Internal Rate of Return; where the @ERR is used in conjunction with other formulas, posted was an "ERR" showing an error was received in the calculations. As far as I can see in the program I cannot find an @ERR function that will allow us to calculate an Economic Rate of Return" and, thus the inherent limitations of Microsoft Office as well as Open Office having borrowed from IBM's Lotus SmartSuite!!!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Since....
... what was said by Edwards is that "The ODF Plugin installs on the file menu as a natural and transparent part of the 'open,' 'save,' and 'save as' sequences. As far as end users and other application add-ons are concerned, ODF Plugin renders ODF documents as if (they) were native to MS Office....."; then it will appear that we have yet a long road to travel in order to realise certain functionalities within both of these office products - Microsoft Office and Open Office; as we now know them - they both have borrowed (perhaps heavily so) from IBM Lotus SmartSuite leaving them without certain functionalities and obviously, the real possibilities of certain limitations.

As a point of reference here is an extract from a 1998 Lotus Development Corporation communication; Re: Concerning the issues with 1-2-3 that are talked about in the documentation you gave me, most of the issues are related to converting files between older and newer versions of product and converting documents between Lotus and Microsoft. Anytime a file is saved backwards or saved with an older file format than the format the file was created under, such as saving a 1-2-3 , 97 file for Windows 95 into a WK1 format for DOS, then naturally we are expected to loose certain features due to technology and features that are present now that were not present 8 - 10 years ago. Similarly, if we try to convert a file from Lotus into Excel or Excel into Lotus, due to differences in the products not every feature will be converted perfectly with the file filters that are available. Both Lotus and Microsoft create similar spreadsheet programs; however, there are several differences in both programs and these differences will remain to distinguish the products apart. We do try to design conversion filters that will allow as much of the file formats as possible to be exchanged and converted without disrupting the actual file design and format.

In one of your letters you made mention of the @IRR and @ERR functions in the 1-2-3 product. By design the @IRR (notably "absent" in Open Office) will calculate the Internal Rate of Return; where the @ERR is used in conjunction with other formulas, posted was an "ERR" showing an error was received in the calculations. As far as I can see in the program I cannot find an @ERR function that will allow us to calculate an Economic Rate of Return" and, thus the inherent limitations of Microsoft Office as well as Open Office having borrowed from IBM's Lotus SmartSuite!!!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
may help to erode dependence on MSOffice formats
IMHO it's not so much as corporates/governments are addicted to MSOffice as much as they are addicted to MSOffice formats. Sure, training is certainly a big factor but if there is business demand for using non-MSOffice formats, businesses/governments will by necessity make the investments. It's one of those chicken and egg thing: Corporation X will standardize on format X only if everyone else has already standardized on format X. If we can get more people to adopt format X, the rate of adoption of format X will pick up. Once format X reaches critical mass, any app that has exclusive right to that format will have a very large market leverage. Example: format X = MSOffice formats, app = MSOffice. If another format Y reaches critical mass, the market leverage of format X app loses market leverage, if it does not support format Y.
Posted by thanhvn (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Addiction?
Your assumption that enterprise customers of Microsoft are "addicted" to MSOffice is a bit heavy-handed.

Microsoft has earned their place in the enterprise over time. Once upon a time Lotus was the preferred spreadsheet and WordPerfect was the preferred word processor. Their products paled in comparison to Office (as does OpenOffice, now), so they were dropped.

No addiction involved -- just market competition. Something the "Open Document" crowd doesn't seem to favor.
Posted by Betty Roper (121 comments )
Link Flag
may help to erode dependence on MSOffice formats
IMHO it's not so much as corporates/governments are addicted to MSOffice as much as they are addicted to MSOffice formats. Sure, training is certainly a big factor but if there is business demand for using non-MSOffice formats, businesses/governments will by necessity make the investments. It's one of those chicken and egg thing: Corporation X will standardize on format X only if everyone else has already standardized on format X. If we can get more people to adopt format X, the rate of adoption of format X will pick up. Once format X reaches critical mass, any app that has exclusive right to that format will have a very large market leverage. Example: format X = MSOffice formats, app = MSOffice. If another format Y reaches critical mass, the market leverage of format X app loses market leverage, if it does not support format Y.
Posted by thanhvn (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Addiction?
Your assumption that enterprise customers of Microsoft are "addicted" to MSOffice is a bit heavy-handed.

Microsoft has earned their place in the enterprise over time. Once upon a time Lotus was the preferred spreadsheet and WordPerfect was the preferred word processor. Their products paled in comparison to Office (as does OpenOffice, now), so they were dropped.

No addiction involved -- just market competition. Something the "Open Document" crowd doesn't seem to favor.
Posted by Betty Roper (121 comments )
Link Flag
 

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