Volume 5, Number 10 -- March 12, 2008

OpenXML-ODF Interoperability Goal of Microsoft Initiative

Published: March 12, 2008

by Alex Woodie

Microsoft last week launched the Document Interoperability Initiative to promote interoperability between the Open XML document format it uses in Office 2007 and Open Document Format (ODF), which is used and backed by Novell and other open source software companies. As part of the initiative, Microsoft will fund at least two laboratories where software vendors can test their wares for interoperability. Unfortunately, ODF and Open XML interoperability on Windows XP and Windows Vista won't be part of the run.

Microsoft has been on a tear recently when it comes to sharing proprietary formats, protocols, and APIs, and promoting technological transparency in its products. It was just three weeks ago, you will remember, that Microsoft introduced its "four principles of interoperability." Number three on that list had to do with the proprietary Open XML document format that it introduced with the 2007 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and how it would "design new APIs" to allow developers to use different document formats with those products (ODF, for example, although Microsoft didn't refer to it by name), with the end result being that customers have more choice.

The creation of the Document Interoperability Initiative last week is an extension of those four principles and promises, and now Microsoft is saying ODF by name. The first order of business of the Document Interoperability Initiative will be to run tests at Microsoft's Cambridge, Massachusetts, laboratory to see how well its document translators handle Open XML and ODF conversion on a variety of platforms, including Apple's Mac OS X Leopard and iPhone, the Palm and Symbian operating systems, Linux, and Windows Mobile.

Incredibly, it doesn't appear that Windows XP and Windows Vista will be included in these tests. Apparently, Microsoft doesn't see why anybody would want to use ODF on the most successful operating systems of all time. How could any self-respecting Windows user want to run the free and open Open Office suite from Open when they can pay hundreds of dollars for a version of Office that snuffs out the freedom to choose an alternative (because Open XML-ODF interoperability hasn't been tested on that platform)?

Microsoft's response to the question of Windows' role in document interoperability tests was unclear, and therefore less than satisfactory. "These formats are platform independent," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "As part of the Doc Interop labs, we are collaborating with the industry to identify needs and create document format conformance test suites for application developers to identify interoperability issues. At this point, the collaboration in the labs is focused on identifying input into the creation of the test suites."

The first software vendors to participate in Cambridge ODF-Open XML tests include Linux vendor Novell, Mark Logic, a developer of an XML content server, and mobile software vendors Quickoffice, DataViz, and Nuance Communication. These companies will work with Microsoft to see how well Microsoft's ODF-to-Open XML converter works, and discuss ways they can make it better.

In addition to utilizing the developer APIs for Office 2007, the Cambridge tests will make use of a new version of the ODF-to-Open XML translator that Microsoft first released more than a year ago. Version 1.1 release of the translator works with Excel and PowerPoint, and similar open source products. Version 1 supported Word and open source word processors that use ODF.

While the focus is on ODF today, Microsoft says it intends to scope out interoperability with other formats in the future, including UOF (or Uniform Office Format), a UDF-like format for word processing, slide presentation, and spreadsheets, and DAISY (or Digital Accessible Information System), an XML-based format used for audio books.

Microsoft plans to hold additional document interoperability labs, including one this week in Seoul, Korea, and another in Berlin, Germany, in early April.


Microsoft Promises To Be Less Secretive, More Open

File Format Translator Available for Open XML, ODF

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