Amid government pressure for interoperability, Microsoft on Thursday announced the creation of the Open XML Translator Project. The project will create free software to allow Word, Excel and PowerPoint to handle documents in competing technology formats.
The project is a response to government requests for interoperability with the OpenDocument Format (ODF) because it works with constituent groups that use that format. Microsoft’s translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software to accelerate document interoperability and expand customer choice between Open XML and other technologies.
“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. Yet it is very important that customers have the freedom to choose from a range of technologies to meet their diverse needs,” said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements. By developing the bidirectional translation tools through an open source project, Microsoft believes the technical decisions and tradeoffs necessary will be transparent to everyone — Open XML and ODF advocates alike.
Microsoft is pushing the advantages of Open XML format compatibility and fidelity within the Office suite. The software giant is also pointing to Open XML formats’ approach to accessibility support for disabled workers, file performance and flexibility.
In its announcement of the Open XML project Thursday, Microsoft took the opportunity to downplay the ODF’s abilities. ODF focuses on more limited requirements, is architected very differently and is now under review in Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options, the company noted.
Microsoft argues that certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a necessary part of translating between the two formats, while its Open XML format protects customers’ intellectual property interests.
Interoperable by Design
Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint already include built-in support for dozens of formats to enable interoperability across products. 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.
Interarbor Solutions Principal Analyst Dana Gardner sees Microsoft’s decision to support ODF as significant. Microsoft could stand fast against the government requests, he told TechNewsWorld, or drag its feet to comply, but it did neither, he noted. The movement is a positive step, he said, though there is still room for improvement.
“It does seem that Microsoft is moving in the direction that the Open Document folks want,” Gardner noted. “But I don’t think this goes as far as many would like to see in terms of openness.”