Microsoft Bows to Pressure to Interoperate with ODF

Microsoft is giving in to the unrelenting pressure to be more open, particularly with regard to its Office Open XML file format and interoperability with the Open Document Format alternative.

The company will announce July 6 that it has set up an open-source project to create a series of tools that allow translation between the OpenXML format and the ODF format, and which will be developed with partners.

The Open XML Translator project, as it is known, will be posted on SourceForge, the open-source software development Web site.

The goal is to allow open participation and the free use of the software, so the source code will be made available under the BSD license, Jean Paoli, the general manager for interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK.

Microsoft created the project along with three of its partners: IT solution provider Clever Age, which is writing the code, and two ISVs, Aztecsoft, which is testing the code; and Dialogika, which is testing the code in the context of the specific tablets used by European governments internally.

Microsoft’s involvement with the project included setting it up, providing technical support and project management, and funding part of it, Paoli said.

The move comes hot on the heels of news that the OpenDocument Foundation planned to present Massachusetts with an Office plug-in that would allow Office users to open, render and save to ODF files, while also allowing translation of documents between Microsoft’s binary (.doc, .xls, .ppt) or XML formats and ODF.

Click here to read more about the testing of an ODF plug-in for all versions of Microsoft Office dating back to Office 97.

Jason Matusow, Microsoft’s director of standards affairs, noted that Microsoft was not contributing code or providing architectural guidance for the Open XML Translator project.

“There is a balance that needs to be struck between the transparency and the direction the community wants to take a project. By doing it this way we are trying to capture the best of all worlds,” he said in an interview.

“Predictable timelines, milestones, deliverables, documentation and testing are things that don’t automatically happen. If you look at any of the big, successful open-source projects, they achieve commercial quality because there are commercial players behind them with funding and professional development,” Matusow said.

There had also been no regulatory pressure on Microsoft to develop these translation tools, he said, adding that the discussion about interoperability had been going on in Europe for a number of years, “and we take our responsibilities and obligations very seriously on any of these topics of what happens with the government.”

In other words, the motivation for the creation of these translation tools was “not about an overwhelming response from enterprises and other customers seeking ODF support,” but rather to respond to governmental concerns about being able to communicate with constituents that might choose to make use of the ODF, Matusow said.

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