Microsoft boosts OOXML compatibility

Documents created using the Office Open XML document format can now be viewed through a simple Firefox plug-in, while OOXML's compatibility with ODF and Apache has also been enhanced.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor
Microsoft on Wednesday announced several incremental enhancements to the compatibility of its Office Open XML document format.

The enhancements came out of the Document Interoperability Initiative (DII), a working group set up in March between Microsoft and companies such as Novell, QuickOffice and Dataviz. The object of the DII was to boost the interoperability between Office Open XML (OOXML) and rival XML-based document formats such as the open-source OpenDocument Format (ODF), which was already a ratified ISO standard.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced the release of the Open XML Document Viewer, a plug-in for Firefox that allows OOXML documents to be viewed within the open-source browser. "Users can now download a plug-in and begin viewing Open XML documents within the Firefox browser on Windows and Linux platforms without the need to install Microsoft Office or competing productivity products," Microsoft's statement read.

The translator tool for interoperability between OOXML and ODF has also been enhanced, reaching version 2.5. The new version now includes: a set of ODF 1.1-compatible templates that are, according to Microsoft, "optimised for greater fidelity through the translation process"; chart enhancements in spreadsheets; "enhanced reliability"; and a streamlined installation process.

Another announcement related to the Apache Software Foundation's POI project, which provides Java libraries that help with writing to and reading Microsoft's document formats. A new software development kit (SDK) has now been made available to Java coders so they can work with OOXML documents.

"Achieving interoperability between document formats requires the IT community coming together to test implementations and develop tools to promote interoperability over time," said Microsoft's interoperability chief, Jean Paoli, in the statement. "We're pleased to see the Document Interoperability Initiative events fill this important role over the past several months, and result in real-world tools and solutions that will help vendors meet the interoperability needs of customers."

John McCreesh, an evangelist for OpenOffice.org, the main open-source competitor to the Microsoft Office productivity suite, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that he was surprised to hear Microsoft was continuing to work on OOXML's compatibility.

"The feeling had been that OOXML was dead in the water, so it's interesting to see that Microsoft is still trying to revive it in the marketplace," said McCreesh. "The response in the marketplace [to OOXML] hasn't been that encouraging, but they've clearly decided it's worth another push."

McCreesh conceded that the Firefox plug-in for reading OOXML documents did obviate one temporary advantage OpenOffice had had over MS Office: between the October release of OpenOffice 3 and Wednesday's announcement, OpenOffice had been the easiest way to view OOXML documents without needing to buy Office 2007 or download a translator plug-in for earlier versions of Office.

"I suppose you could view it [as taking away that advantage]," McCreesh said. "Certainly, using OpenOffice 3 is a viable way for people to read OOXML documents."

The passage of OOXML through its International Organization for Standardization (ISO) ratification process attracted criticism from many observers and national standards body members. Some national standards bodies objected to Microsoft's perceived tactics in getting OOXML ratified, while arguing that there was no need for a second XML standard after ODF.

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