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Microsoft opens up Word to third parties

Open XML Office 2007 translator for download

Companies have completed the first phase of a Microsoft-sponsored project to create software that can convert Microsoft Word documents between Open XML and Open Document Format for Office Applications file formats.

The Open XML Translator is now available for download in version 1.0 from SourceForge.net, a site that acts as an online repository for open-source projects. The software also can be found on Microsoft's Web site here and here.

Microsoft funded the work on the translator, but did not contribute any code to the project, said Jason Matusow, senior director of intellectual property and interoperability at Microsoft. The company provided architectural guidance and management to the project, he said.

A French company called CleverAge contributed the code and built most of the Open XML Translator, while Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany did the quality assurance and testing.

Plug-in

The Open XML Translator allows Microsoft Word documents based on Open XML to be translated into ODF and vice versa, Matusow said. Once downloaded, it can be used as a plug-in for Microsoft Office 2007, the documents of which are based on Open XML. Developers also can build it into software they are developing.

The Open XML Translator for Word documents is the first phase of the project. The team is currently working on translation between ODF and Open XML for spreadsheets written in Microsoft Excel 2007 and presentations developed in Microsoft PowerPoint 2007, Matusow said.

Much has been made of the fact that Microsoft did not provide native support in Microsoft Office 2007 for ODF, though it provides support for 30 other file formats and uses Open XML as the default document file format. Matusow defends that decision by saying Microsoft tries to meet its customers' wishes, and there was no customer demand for ODF - largely supported by rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems - when development on Office 2007 began. IBM and Sun both use ODF as the default file format in their own rivals to the Microsoft Office suite.

"A standard is about a stack of paper - market adoption is the ultimate driver of activity," Matusow said. "What gets built and used is the defining element. That's why we look at the customer discussion as being so important."

However, government customers that may be required to use only industry-standard technologies in their IT infrastructure requested that Microsoft provide a way to translate between Open XML and ODF. ODF recently was approval by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a global standard, while Open XML is awaiting approval.

Matusow said the reason Microsoft let third parties be the primary creators and caretakers of the Open XML Translator is because of the input of government customers who wanted Microsoft to provide a free, open way to translate between ODF and Open XML - one that was not strictly overseen by Microsoft but was more of a community effort.

Microsoft did try to include native support for another company's document format - a standard implementation of Adobe Systems Inc.'s PDF - in Office 2007, but Adobe balked at the idea and asked Microsoft to pull that support, which it did. Adobe recently submitted PDF to the ISO for global standardization, and Matusow said Microsoft would again be "open to conversation" with Adobe about including PDF as a native file format in a future version of Office.


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