Microsoft-led project to deliver on ODF

First converter between Microsoft Word and OpenDocument format set for release later this month.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read
Microsoft later this month plans to release a converter that will let Word users open documents saved in the OpenDocument format.

The plug-in for Word, set for release Oct. 23, is the first installment of Microsoft's plan to add support for the OpenDocument, or ODF, standard, which has gained interest from government customers.

By the end of the year, the open-source project building the converters will move past simply opening documents and add the ability to save documents created in Word in the ODF format, said Brian Jones, a Microsoft Office program manager. A first prototype of this "Save to ODF" Word add-on will also be made available later this month.

Next year, the Open XML Translator project, done primarily by developers at French company Clever Age, intends to create converters that can translate between Microsoft's Excel and PowerPoint and the corresponding ODF file formats, Jones added.

The converters will not be packaged as part of the upcoming Office 2007. Instead, Microsoft will make them available from the same Web site where people can get add-on converters for the PDF and XPS formats, Jones said.

OpenDocument is built on XML, and Office 2007 will use Office Open XML by default, another XML-based format.

"Even when we announced Office Open XML and people asked, 'Why didn't you use ODF?', we were expecting that people would build a tool to convert between them," Jones said. "We didn't know at the time that we'd be the one sponsoring the project."

Microsoft does not have any engineers involved in the Open XML Translator project, which is hosted on SourceForge.net. But it does have a program manager who acts as a liaison with the team.

There are other ODF-to-Office-Open-XML conversion projects under way, including one from the OpenDocument Foundation.

In an effort to appeal to government customers, Microsoft is seeking to standardize Office Open XML at the European standards groups Ecma International and ISO, the International Organization for Standardization.

Jones said the Ecma technical committee in charge of Office Open XML submitted on Monday the final specification to the Ecma General Assembly.

The Ecma General Assembly is expected to approve it as a standard in December and vote on whether to submit it to ISO for "fast track" approval, which could take at least another six months, he said.

Jones said the technical committee made substantial revisions to Microsoft's original submission, including expanded documentation.

Participants from Novell and Apple Computer also proposed changes that will make the formats work with non-Windows operating systems and with different programming languages, he said.

IBM decided not to participate in this technical committee, saying that the Ecma process would simply be rubber-stamping as a standard Microsoft's existing Office Open XML specification.

Jones noted that the specification expanded from about 2,000 pages to 6,000 through the Ecma process.

"Just by looking at what went in and what's come out, it's clearly not a rubber-stamping," he said. "IBM would have really benefited by joining the committee."