Microsoft to offer "bridge" to ODF in Office 2007

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) - Microsoft is bending to the forces promoting the Open Document Format (ODF) and announced that it will be offering an open-source add-in for Office 2007 applications that will be able to translate its Open XML formats into ODF.

In a surprise announcement, Microsoft said that it will create tools to build a "technical bridge" between its own Office Open XML Formats and the Open Document Format (ODF) in response to government voices that requested such capability in Microsoft's next Office suite. However, the "translator" won't be a native feature of the software, but will be offered as a freely available open-source plug-in, that will have to be downloaded by users. In addition to the default Open XML file formats, the 2007 Microsoft Office system will include a new menu option that points users to add-ins for PDF and XML-based formats such as the XML Paper Specification (XPS), and now ODF as well.

In fact, the press release issued late Wednesday made it clear that not only is the third-party support of ODF a late addition to the software, but it is also treated as a feature expansion for its own Open XML formats. "By enabling this translator, we will make both choice and interoperability a more practical option for our customers," said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft, in a prepared statement. "We believe that Open XML meets the needs of millions of organizations for a new approach to file formats, so we are sharing it with the industry by submitting it, with others, to become a worldwide standard," he said.

Sounding more like an excuse for not having added ODF support earlier, Microsoft claims that "Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements." According to the company, "Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents", and provide improved accessibility support for disabled workers, file performance and performance. In contrast, ODF "focuses on more limited requirements" and fills "key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options." Of course, the supporters of ODF, mainly Adobe, IBM, Intel Novell and Sun see have a different view and traditionally promoted ODF as a format that would provide universal access to documents independent of the software that is running on computer system around the globe.

Microsoft said that it is developing the translation tools in collaboration with the France-based IT solution provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany. A prototype version of the first translator for Word 2007 has been posted on SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter) and is available under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license. According to the company, the complete version of the Word translation tool is expected to be available by the end of 2006, with add-ins for Excel and PowerPoint expected in 2007. Older versions of Office will have access to the translation tool via a free "Compatibility Pack."