Microsoft has demonstrated support for the Open Document Format (ODF) 1.2 standard in a technical preview of the forthcoming Office 15 productivity suite, and plans to release a beta version with the feature late this summer.
The company announced its support for ODF 1.2 -- the native document format of OpenOffice.org 3 and LibreOffice 3 -- during the ODF Plugfest that it hosted in Brussels last week.
The plugfest, or interoperability test, was organized by the OpenDoc Society, once a bitter rival of Microsoft. The society was set up to promote ODF at a time when Microsoft was pushing for its own document format, OOXML, to become an international standard for office productivity suite document formats. ODF 1.0 had already been adopted as an international standard, ISO/IEC 26300, while a variant of OOXML was later adopted as ISO/IEC 29500.
The use of open standard document formats is important for the archival and exchange of information. Whereas legacy documents in proprietary formats may become inaccessible if the original software used to create them is no longer available, it will remain possible to decode documents saved in open or standard formats because any standards-compliant application will be able to do the job.
The current version of Microsoft Office can already read and write documents in ODF 1.1 format, but the standard has moved on: The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) approved version 1.2 last September, and in addition to OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice, it is already supported by Gnumeric, Google Docs, Softmaker Office, EuroOffice, WebODF, Zoho Office, AbiWord and Calligra suite.
Michiel Leenaars, vice-chairman of the OpenDoc Society, welcomed Microsoft's decision to support ODF 1.2.
The adoption of the document standard will enable Microsoft customers to communicate better with users of other productivity software, while the use of ODF frees users that traditionally were tied to one software environment, Leenaars said. "The time that we only had one computer on our desk is behind us: now we have tablets, mobile phones and a variety of other uses of information."
Microsoft plans to release a public beta version of Office 15 this summer, but some developers have already been provided with access to a Technical Preview version under non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
At the plugfest, Microsoft allowed attendees to upload ODF 1.2 documents through a Web interface to a machine running Office 15 Technical Preview, avoiding the need to sign an NDA. That machine then returned the ODF document as either a PDF file to show how Office would print it, as an Open XML file that could be opened in Office 2010 to see an approximation of how Office 15 would render the document on screen, or as ODF 1.2 to see what effect the round trip had on the format, according to attendees at the event.
When Microsoft releases Office 15, it will update mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange and Sharepoint amongst others at the same time, it said in a January blog post.
ODF 1.2 includes a new spreadsheet standard, and support for Resource Description Framework (RDF) metadata, a standard model for data interchange on the Web approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards body. RDF has been described as a hyperlink on steroids, and can be used by companies to structure their workflow.