Services & Software

Microsoft to release ODF document converter

Microsoft-sponsored open-source group expected to release ODF translator for Word.

A Microsoft-sponsored open-source project is expected on Friday to release a translator that will convert file formats between Microsoft Office and rival standard OpenDocument, or ODF.

Microsoft started the project at SourceForge last year, relying on three partners to develop the code that lets a user open and save word processor documents in two different formats.

The Microsoft format is called Office Open XML (OOXML), which is the default document format in the company's recently released Office 2007 suite. The other is ODF, which is backed by Microsoft competitors IBM, Sun Microsystems and Novell.

The plug-in will work with Microsoft's Word application, including the latest Office 2007 version as well the Office 2003 and Office XP editions, Microsoft said. Once installed, a person can open and save documents in the ODF format from Word.

People can download the software, available under the open-source BSD license, for free from SourceForge on Friday. Microsoft intends to make the software available from its own Web site as well, the company said.

The same group of Microsoft partners will now start work on code to translate file formats between Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation software and the corresponding ODF files, said Jean Paoli, the general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft.

Those plug-ins, which will also be developed as open-source projects, are expected to be available by the end of the year, he said.

Novell last year said it will use the Word translator to allow users of OpenOffice, which supports ODF, to work with OOXML files from Microsoft Office.

The delivery of the first document format translator comes at a time of growing interest in electronic document standards.

ODF has emerged as a viable document format and been integrated into commercial products. Microsoft, meanwhile, has standardized the Office Open XML (OOXML) document formats at Ecma International and is in the process of seeking certification with the ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization.

Adobe Systems, too, said last week that it intends to submit the full Portable Document Format, or PDF, to ISO for standardization.

Critics of Microsoft's OOXML have complained that it overlaps with the functionality already in ODF and that there should be only one standard. Others have complained that the specifications--at more than 6,000 pages--are too difficult to implement in products.

IBM, a vocal advocate of ODF, was the only representative to making OOXML an Ecma standard. Now it is seeking to block its ISO standardization as well, said Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards.

"The most vocal opponent is a competitor (that) has business reasons to try to stop the process from happening and I think that's unfortunate. By doing that, it's creating an environment where choice and innovation would be limited," he said.

Robertson said he expects many document standards to exist to serve different purposes and markets.

Paoli said that although the specification is large, developers are free--both legally and technically--to implement only components of the full documentation.