Microsoft releases ODF translator

Open source plug-in converts Word documents into OpenDocument Format; similar translators for Excel and PowerPoint coming.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

A Microsoft-sponsored initiative last week officially released a plug-in that converts the software vendor's Open XML (extensible markup language) file formats in Word to OpenDocument Format (ODF).

Available as a free software download from the SourceForge.net open source software repository, the Open XML Translator 1.0 is the result of work undertaken by French IT services provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany, and is backed by funding from Microsoft.

For now, the plug-in works only with Microsoft Word 2007, 2003 and XP editions, but project developers this month started work on similar translators for Excel and PowerPoint, according to a Microsoft statement released Friday. The plug-in is governed by BSD free software license.

Customer technology previews for Excel and PowerPoint plug-ins will be posted regularly on SourceForge.net beginning May 2007, and the final versions are scheduled to be publicly available in November 2007.

The Open XML translator project started last year, underscoring a push by Microsoft for better interoperability, said Brian Jones, a program manager for Microsoft's Office product, in a blog posting last July. He noted that the impetus to start the program came from its government customers.

Jones explained: "While we still aren't seeing a strong demand for ODF support from our corporate or consumer customers, it's now a bit different with governments. We've had some governments request that we help build solutions so that can use ODF for certain situations, so that's why we are creating the Open XML Translator project."

Last August, the International Open Source Network (IOSN) at the United Nations, called for Asian countries to adopt ODF for document preservation, among other benefits.

In Malaysia, the document format is on its way to be ratified as a national standard, while developments in the Philippines and Singapore are moving a tad slower.

Jean Paoli, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and XML architecture, said in the statement that the Open XML translator now makes "both choice and interoperability a more practical option for our customers".

"We believe that Open XML meets the needs of millions of organizations for a new approach to file formats, so we are sharing it with the industry by submitting it, with others, to become a worldwide standard," Paoli added.

In May 2006, members of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved the ODF standard. Analyst house Gartner had said the move is a blow to Microsoft, noting that the ISO is unlikely to recognize Open XML as a standard.

The software giant is currently seeking ISO approval for the document format, after it was approved by European standards body ECMA International last December.

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