MS Open XML, ODF Converter Finished

The open source project to build a translator between Microsoft's new Office Open XML format and OpenDocument, the standard backed by OASIS, reached its first milestone Friday, releasing 1.0 of the technology for both Microsoft Word and competing ODF-compatible office suites.

The Open XML Translator is available at no cost to all users and is compatible with Office 2007, Office 2003 and Office XP. The idea, says Microsoft, is to let users choose whether to save their documents in Open XML or ODF no matter what productivity suite they choose to use.

Open XML is the new default format in Office 2007, and has been certified by European standards body Ecma; ISO certification is currently ongoing. OpenDocument, meanwhile, has already been certified as an ISO standard for electronic documents. Microsoft says it chose to create its own format rather than utilize ODF due to backwards compatibility issues.

“We believe in delivering interoperability by design; in this case, by working with partners and members of the open source community we have achieved that goal,” remarked Tom Robertson, general manager for Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft. “The translator project has been built to be independent of any one application, and has proved to be useful for both Microsoft and our competitors in solving an interoperability challenge for customers."

Novell concurrently announced Friday that the Open XML Translator will be natively integrated into the next version of OpenOffice, by far the most popular suite that makes use of ODF.

The next phase of the translator project will begin this month, focusing on translators for the Open XML formats used by Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. Technology previews will be released on SourceForge.net beginning in May, Microsoft said.

Microsoft has tapped France-based partner Clever Age to create the OpenDocument tools, along with independent software vendors Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany. The translation software will be made available to older versions of Microsoft Office as well through a compatibility pack that adds support for Open XML.

By providing a downloadable add-in that enables customers to import OpenDocument files and export to the format, Microsoft is also making Office 2007 a possibility for businesses and governments like Massachusetts that do opt to switch to ODF. But the translation will not be seamless, the company concedes.

Microsoft notes that OpenDocument still has gaps that are being worked out by OASIS, such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options. Citing Open XML's accessibility features for disabled workers, file performance and support for integrating external XML data, Microsoft says ODF "focuses on more limited requirements."

OpenDocument isn't the only third party file format supported by Office 2007. The new suite also supports saving to Adobe's PDF format through a downloadable add-in. Menu options built into the software direct customers to a page with the free add-ins.

The Open XML Translator version 1.0 is available for download from FileForum.

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