Microsoft is opening up Office to other file formats, slowly but steadily.
On Wednesday, the company said it plans to add new formats to Office 2007, including the OpenDocument Format (ODF), Portable Document Format (PDF), and XML Paper Specification (XPS). The new formats will be added to Office as part of Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, due in the first half of next year.
ODF, a rival document format to Office's native format, has become popular with governments and schools. Microsoft, acknowledging requests for compatibility with ODF, released a converter to allow Word users to open documents saved in the OpenDocument format.
Likewise, the company had earlier made available an add-on for Office that allows users to save documents in PDF format.
Now, the company is going a step further by building ODF and PDF support directly into Office. In addition, customers will now be able to set ODF as the default file format in Office 2007.
The company said it will continue to work with the open-source community to make a translator for ODF available for older versions of Office, such as Office 2000, Office XP, and Office 2003.
"We have heard from customers and governments that they would like to see us do this. Now is the time to announce this support. It's also important to announce this now because we want to get involved in the maintenance of ODF," said Tom Robertson, general manager of Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft.
Microsoft has come under increasing pressure to support rival file formats in Office. Earlier this week, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) said that it has filed a complaint with the European Commission against Microsoft, alleging that Office 2007 will impede educational initiatives because it does not natively support open standards, namely ODF.
Robertson said the timing of Wednesday's announcement was not related to the Becta complaint filed on Monday. Microsoft will, however, discuss the new format support with the EC. "We have ongoing dialogue with the EC, so we will absolutely have a discussion with them about these steps and get whatever feedback they may have on it," Robertson said.
Also on Wednesday, Microsoft said it will add support for the latest version of Open XML, ratified by standards bodies in March, to the next major version of Office, being developed under the code name Office 14. Robertson said no date has been set for office 14's release. Typically, Microsoft releases a new version of Office approximately every three years. Office 2007 was made available to business customers in November 2006.
Microsoft plans to join a technical committee of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, working on ODF advancements. The company will also take part in the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC) working group being formed to maintain Open XML.