Microsoft Edges Closer to OpenDoc
Microsoft said this week it has started an open-source project on the SourceForge
collaborative software development management site to create free translators
that can transform Office Open XML documents into OpenDocument format and vice
Microsoft is collaborating with France-based IT solution provider Clever Age
and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika
in Germany, the company said in a statement.
A prototype version of the first translator added to Word 2007 was posted Wednesday
on the SourceForge site.
A finished release of the Word translation tool is expected to be available
free by the end of 2006, with add-ins for Excel and PowerPoint promised for
2007. Users of older Office versions will be able to get the translator via
a free compatibility pack, which will also provide free updates to enable Open
XML format support.
This somewhat dramatic change comes after years of acrimony between the company
and the open source OpenDocument Format's (ODF) supporters. [ODF is overseen
by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards
However, the code is licensed under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution
(BSD) license rather than the so-called GNU General Public License (GPL), which
is far more common in the open source world -- but highly deprecated by Microsoft.
Still, the move definitely brightened the outlook for interchangeability between
the two formats.
"We are delighted that Microsoft has decided to stop being unremitting
and negative about [OpenDoc] interoperability," OpenDocument gadfly and
Sun Microsystems' chief open source officer, Simon Phipps, said in an
interview. Phipps has been one of the most vocal of ODF's proponents.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's own submission to European standards body ECMA
International is making its way through the standardization process, but may
never reach the level of adoption that ODF seems to already be achieving in
Europe. In fact, the translator project is based on work done within the ECMA
process, according to Microsoft statements.
As its hopes of controlling any official document standard -- other than a
powerful de facto one based on its application hegemony -- fade, Microsoft may
be at least partly driving the company to become more flexible.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the IEC jointly
announced in May that they had ratified the ODF, the origins of which began
in Sun's StarOffice and the open source OpenOffice, as a standard meant to enable
documents from various desktop applications to be interchangeable. For many
observers, this means that Microsoft's efforts to achieve an equivalent adoption
by ISO are unlikely to be successful.
"The newly approved ISO/IEC 26300, Open Document Format for Office Applications
(OpenDocument) v1.0, has been designed to be used as a default file format for
office applications with no increase in file size or loss of data integrity,"
said a joint ISO/IEC statement announcing ratification in May.
OpenDocument -- also referred to as OpenDoc but not related to an earlier IBM
technology of the same name -- is a competitor to Microsoft's Office Open XML.
Both are based on XML vocabularies, but Microsoft's technology, while royalty
free, is proprietary, critics observe.
Microsoft's statement released online said the move was made to satisfy
customers, especially government bodies, that need such document interchangeability.
The announcement wasn't without its sniping, however. Phipps pointed
out on his weblog that, despite all of Microsoft's make nice behavior,
the current release of the translator is intentionally difficult to use and
results in OpenDoc files becoming read-only when imported into Word. A later
version will support read and write import and export capabilities, he said.
At least one analyst hailed the move.
While applauding Microsoft's move towards interchangeability, that leaves
several puzzles -- chief among them: "I scratch my head and wonder: Why
doesn't Microsoft just more directly work with the OASIS group with respect
to reducing the technical issues?" said JupiterResearch senior operating
systems analyst Joe Wilcox in a posting on his Weblog.
Sun's Phipps says he already has the red carpet rolled out. "I'd like
to invite them to join the ODF Alliance and we would like to see them on the
ODF technical committee (within OASIS)...Microsoft would be extremely welcome
there," Phipps added.
The current version of the translator is available here.
Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.