July 5, 2006 9:01 PM PDT

Microsoft bends on OpenDocument

Microsoft said it plans to sponsor an open-source project to create software that will convert Office documents to OpenDocument, a rival format gaining ground, particularly among governments.

The software giant on Thursday launched the Open XML Translator project on SourceForge.net, a popular site for hosting code-sharing projects. The software will be available under the BSD open-source license.

The software, developed by a France-based Microsoft partner, will allow people to use Microsoft Office to open and save documents in the OpenDocument, or ODF, format.

Although Microsoft Office document formats are the most widely used, OpenDocument has emerged as an alternative with significant vendor backing and with high-profile government customers in Massachusetts and Belgium. OpenDocument is an XML-based format developed under the standards group OASIS, or the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

The decision to manage the project is something of a reversal for Microsoft. Until now, it said that it would not natively support OpenDocument in Office, citing lack of demand. Instead, it would rely instead on third parties for format translators.

Microsoft isn't seeing a sharp uptick in demand for OpenDocument, but government customers urged the company to provide interoperability between Microsoft's own forthcoming XML Office formats and OpenDocument, said Tom Robertson, the general manager of interoperability and standards at the software giant.

"We're hearing that (customers) don't want homogeneity--they want diversity; they want translatability," Robertson said. "And some customers are saying they would like us to focus on this to a certain extent, to make sure the product is high quality."

Conversion schedule
On Thursday, the Open XML Translator project intends to release a prototype of software that will change Word documents to OpenDocument, and vice versa. The goal is to have a Word plug-in for Office 2007 by the end of this year and translators for Excel and PowerPoint next year, said Jean Paoli, the general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft.

The conversions will be based on Microsoft's Open Office XML, the XML-based file formats that will be the default setting in Office 2007, due next year. Microsoft is seeking to make Open Office XML an Ecma International standard by the end of this year, Paoli said.

Because Open Office XML is backward-compatible, the translator will work with older versions of Office, Paoli said. However, he said that because the two standards are significantly different, perfect document translation is not possible.

"We wanted to have this project be really transparent," Paoli said. "No translation is perfect. There are a lot of trade-offs between Open XML, which is actually full-featured and backward-compatible, and ODF, which is more limited."

For example, participants in the project will have to make a technical choice if there is a feature in Office 2007 that is not supported in OpenDocument-based products, he said.

Paoli said that Microsoft is managing the project and providing some resources.

France-based Clever Age is writing the code and will participate in the project. Aztecsoft in India is testing the software, and Dialogika in Germany will test it to meet European Commission customer requirements.

A handful of document format converters are already under development, including an Office plug-in from the OpenDocument Foundation, which is expected to be tested by Massachusetts.

Paoli said Microsoft expects that there will be a number of translators.

See more CNET content tagged:
OpenDocument Format, XML, interoperability, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office 2007

18 comments

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ODF to be the MP3 of document files?
This reminds me of how MS grudgingly added MP3 support to Windows Media Player, but in such a way that we get a warning screen about WMA having higher quality and being more secure, despite everyone knowing that MP3 is a more flexable format with no lock-in. ODF will be the same and with DOC, XLS and PPT being all but abandoned in Office 2007, ODF will be the natural choice.
Posted by kild (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More like Ogg Vorbis
ODF is more like Ogg Vorbis audio format. Even
MP3 is not completely open and free format like
Ogg Vorbis is.
Posted by JLP (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I guess they know best...
How is it that they claim that there is no demand, just to turn around and say that clients are demanding the support? They can't be that out of touch with what their clients actually DO want can they?
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Reply Link Flag
never admit anything
Microsoft will never admit that customers are screaming for OpenDocument Support in Office, but they can't ignore it either.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Link Flag
More Demand for Native PDF Support in Office
Just a thought, suggestion, hint maybe.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Re: I guess they know best...
Microsoft knew all along about what people want, they just don't care unless it threatens the monopoly. In this case, MA pushing forward with ODF was the threat and they reacted. Another example, the lack of security in Office and other Microsoft products doesn't have significant masses of people using alternatvies, therefore M$ doesn't care about product security. As far as I know they still plan to include the Macro Virus 'feature?' in Office 2007. No other office product openly supports macro viruses, threatening you and I like Microsoft Office does. If people dropped MS Office in masses due to virus threats, threatening the monopoly, maybe Microsoft would look in to securing Office.
Posted by 206538395198018178908092208948 (141 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Macro viruses
You said "No other office product openly supports macro viruses, threatening you and I like Microsoft Office does."

You obviously missed the patches released this week for Open Office, one of those patches fixes a vulnerability that would have allowed a macro to take over a user's computer (without the user being required to do anything more than open the document). That could've been the basis for a serious virus threat.

The same kind of problem has been found (and fixed via patches) in the macros supported by the Adobe Reader, WordPerfect, Lotus and of course MS Office. Your implications that only MS has such problems is blatently false, in fact it seems that nearly every product that supports macros seems to fall into this particular trap.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
At Last, The Chickens Are Coming Home To Roost!
To the extent that "Microsoft said it plans to sponsor an open-source project to create software that will convert Office documents to OpenDocument" as this CNET News article states can only mean one thing; and, that is, at length and at last, and according to the subject line of this comment - "At Last, The Chickens Are Coming Home To Roost" - Again. Anyone who has been following the "Captain's" arguments would most naturally be in total agreement; and, one other point, just how well will this strategy be accepted by others given that "Paoli said that Microsoft is managing the project and providing some resources when there is the OpenDocument Foundation as was proposed by IBM and Sun Microsystems some time ago :

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://netscape.cbsi.com/IBM,+Sun+to+create+OpenDocument+Foundation/2100-1013_3-5926010.html" target="_newWindow">http://netscape.cbsi.com/IBM,+Sun+to+create+OpenDocument+Foundation/2100-1013_3-5926010.html</a>
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
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A simple solution to a big problem
No need to spin this development. It's good for users of any word processor or spreadsheet to be able to read and write a common file format. ODF got the ball rolling and now Microsoft has decided to accept the ISO standard. This is a positive for users.
It's not just Massachusetts, the EU government may be moving to ODF in the near future and I'm sure that Microsoft wouldn't want to take themselves out of that market.
Posted by Arbalest05 (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One Question, Have We Been Down This Road Before!
Since according to this article; "Open Office XML is backward-compatible, the translator will work with older versions of Office, Paoli said. However, he said that because the two standards are significantly different, perfect document translation is not possible.

"We wanted to have this project be really transparent," Paoli said. "No translation is perfect. There are a lot of trade-offs between Open XML, which is actually full-featured and backward-compatible, and ODF, which is more limited."

For example, participants in the project will have to make a technical choice if there is a feature in Office 2007 that is not supported in OpenDocument-based products...,"; here is (the same thing) what was discussed since 1998 in an Lotus Development Corporation Communication which reads as follows: "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".

Now, the bigger issues will/can be, which companies/organizations will contend for controlling interests in this obvious renewal of development activities with regards to providing "interoperability between Microsoft's own forthcoming XML Office formats and OpenDocument"!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
there are already programs to do that
Corel Draw Suite have several extentions for about any office program you can name. All I need to do is make sure it is in my list of extentions before opening.
All one needs to open a document is to know which program created it, right click your mouse, select "Open with" and the Corel Draw Suites "extension" to open it with. So what's the big news here from M.S. ?
Posted by pjdw (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Corel Draw Suite to opens "other" documents
Corel Draw Suite have several extentions for about any office program you can name. All I need to do is make sure it is in my list of extentions before opening.
All one needs to open a document is to know which program created it, right click your mouse, select "Open with" and the Corel Draw Suites "extension" to open it with. So what's the big news here from M.S. ?
Posted by pjdw (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
But can Corel Wordperfect Suite open ODF file in the near future?
Not according to Corel's Richard Carriere in his interview with Betanews, I'm afraid:

"...but the reality is people need to exchange files, and today nobody is exchanging files using ODF... the day that a real market materializes for ODF, we will consider it..." [http://www.betanews.com/article/Interview_Corel_on_Sun_Open_Standards/1129672161]

OASIS legal counsel Andy Updegrove issued some "not-so-positive" comments regarding Corel: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.consortiuminfo.org/newsblog/blog.php?ID=1663" target="_newWindow">http://www.consortiuminfo.org/newsblog/blog.php?ID=1663</a>
Posted by rgl168 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Old IBM did this with SGML
MS is still stuck on page 99 of their IBM marketing bible. The old IBM played out exactly the same strategy with SGML back in the mid 80's.

For those that went with the real standard, interoperability with IBM was a no no, which I can see is the aim here.

Also, documents saved in the later IBM formats, could not be opened with previous versions forcing users who needed to interoperate, to spend more money upgrading to the latest version.

Although IBM thought this was an effective marketing strategy and did give them a short term gain, users wanted real interoperability with any version of any software on any system, and this was probably one of the major reasons they eventually deserted the IBM monopoly, by migrating to UNIX and desktop MS.

Unfortunately for MS, pages 100+ of the marketing manual were written after they had their falling out with IBM, so they don't have a clue how to play the standards game for long term survival.

Maybe now that Bill Gates has joined the Humanitarian Club, he will meet the enlightened members of the Open Source community and learn a thing or two about interoperability in the real world.
Posted by Stomfi (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All data WMD critical application data (1) should bee kept on Enterprise so
For mine; enterum dialog can't always be trusted without improved stadards for NAS world wide standards inplace. rather, and again through the media ISP hopefuls, online streaming can and will support a SIG (w/ mouth wash) or the new improve bare bones rendition (scalper) to run a Chevy (tm) or Viper (yet to be announced). Permissions pending approval from the Central North American Homeland Security. Meybe next year for distribution. The trumpets have blown and these walls of Jericho arround me can't own my Ai kernel but they will have the opertunity to purchase a piece of Me. Encloser pending. travel plans in the works for a humble pie and enrtry into the television software firmwave industry. (Chow {main} notified through this online provider.)
Posted by Stalin Hornsby (60 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yea, there is already one, it is called OpenOffice 2.0
what Micro$oft REALLY wants is to keep the security leaks in the documents.


but OO will read the M$ dot DOC crap and throw out the harmful things that allows viruses in your computer
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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