Microsoft to ODF: We want to be friends, really

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Microsoft to ODF: We want to be friends, really

Cambridge (MA) – Just in case you had any doubts whether Microsoft was serious about its document interoperability intentions or not, the company today announced the Document Interoperability Initiative, which promises to promote user choice among document formats. A new translator between ODF and Open XML was also released today.

If you think about it, the document format world could have turned out to be a real mess – with one camp supporting the Oasis ODF and the other one following Microsoft’s Open XML format, which is used throughout the latest Office suite. Not too long ago, there appeared to be enough ODF supporters out there (including IBM) who got tired of Microsoft’s proprietary formats and aggressively pushed ODF with the claim that only an open, license free format would be suitable to be used across all platforms throughout the world.   

Fortunately, Microsoft apparently received enough outside pressure to initially agree to develop a bridge between ODF and Open XML (but not integrate it into Office 2007 by default). Now it appears that ODF and Open XML interoperability is affected by Microsoft’s recent promise to play nice in the industry and share more information with developers. According to its recently announced interoperability “principles” , Microsoft promises to publish API documentation and communications protocols of its high-volume products which so far have only been available under trade secret agreements.  

Brought down to the ODF/Open XML problem, Microsoft said that the recently formulated interoperability principles promote “the interoperability between the document format implementations through testing and refining those implementations, creation of format implementation test suites, and the creation of templates designed for optimal interoperability between different formats.”

To support this goal, Microsoft has initiated a collaborative effort with Novell, Mark Logic, DataViz and Nuance Communications. A first event, which was held in Cambridge today, was described as the first in a series of labs around the world that will bring together vendors to test interoperability between their implementations of well-known document formats, and between implementations of different formats.” The Cambridge lab will test interoperability between existing implementations of Microsoft Office Open XML Formats and the Open Document Format (ODF) on a variety of platforms and devices including Mac OS X Leopard, iPhone, Palm OS, Symbian OS, Linux and Windows Mobile, Microsoft said.

“Microsoft recognizes that users want to choose the document format that best suits their needs and that vendors have a responsibility to work together to achieve interoperability between different format implementations,” said Tom Robertson, general manager, Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft in a prepared statement.

It isn’t just hot air that is coming out of this initiative, apparently, as Microsoft touted the release of version 1.1 of a translator between ODF and Open XML for Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and Microsoft PowerPoint presentation applications. Microsoft announced back in July 2006 that it would drive the ODF/Open XML translator initiative. So the ODF-Open XML interoperability promise is taking shape, which is a good thing. But somehow we feel this should have been done before the release of Office 2007 more than a year ago.

After the announcement of Microsoft’s interoperability principles in February, the EU issued a statement that it had doubts whether Microsoft would be following through with this promise and how far these promises would go. EU, we hope you take notice. Microsoft is serious this time. Really.