Microsoft releases updated Office-OpenOffice XML translator, ramps up document interop efforts as ISO mulls OpenXML

Microsoft today launched an update of its OpenXML and ODF translator for its Excel and Powerpoint applications and pledged to keep churning out more documentation to enable interoperability -- and more patents to protect that IP.Following its interoperability announcement on Feb 21, the Redmond, Wash.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

Microsoft today launched an update of its OpenXML and ODF translator for its Excel and Powerpoint applications and pledged to keep churning out more documentation to enable interoperability -- and more patents to protect that IP.

Following its interoperability announcement on Feb 21, the Redmond, Wash. company published more than 30,000 pages of documentation on MSDN for Windows client and server protocls that were previously available only under trade secret licenses. That information gives ISVs and developers open connections to Microsoft's leading Windows products.

At an event in Cambridge, Mass., Microsoft's interoperability chief Tom Robertson announced the document interoperability initiative, availability of version 1.1 of the OpenXML/ODF translator in conjunction with Novell and plans to release a beta version of protocol documentation for a variety of other Microsoft products in April. Documentation for those and many other Microsoft products, including Office 2007 connections to all Microsoft products, protocols between Sharepoint Server 2007 and all other Microsoft products and .NET Framework protocols, are promised to be published by the end of June.

Microsoft would not disclose pricing for its protocol licensing but pledged today that going forward it will be offered at a "reasonable and non discriminatory" (RAND) manner. Late last month -- just days after Microsoft launched its multi-faceted interoperability initiative --the European Union fined Microsoft $1.4 billion for allegedly failing to comply with a three-year-old order to supply server interoperability data for competitors. Some rivals, including Samba and other open source players, argued in the past that that the costs were too prohibitive for ISVs.

The document interoperability initiative comes less than a week after ISO met once again to consider Microsoft's application to make OpenXML an ISO standard. Robertson, General Manager of Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft, said he was encouraged by the feedback and comments that came out of the meeting and appeared confident that Microsoft had addressed all concerns and will gain approval. ISO members have until March 29 to decide they're going to change their votes from no to yes in favor of OpenXML's adoption, he said.

"Now the spec has to be edited and modified," he said. "I can't predict if it will gain approval. It's in the hands of national bodies. But the process is working exactly as it designed to work."

At the small roundtable on Thursday, Microsoft assembled several ISVs -- including Novell, Mark Logic, QuickOffice, DataViz and Nuance -- to discuss and demonstrate how Microsoft's openess is allowing them to build products that support ODF and OpenXML (and other standards) and allow free exchange of data between various documents.

Microsoft said it would establish a patent mapping system to protect its soon-to-be-open protocols and licensing fees that would apply to companies that ship commercial products.

"Open source developers have royalty free access to patents in protocols for development and non commercial distribution of implementations," Robertson said, noting the company is working actively with Samba, Novell, Xandros, Linspire, Turbolinux, SugarCRM, Xen, JBOSS and 25,000 other open source projects.

Robertson dodged a question about whether the protocol licensing fees would make economic sense for an open source company that doesn't charge for products but does charge for services, noting that final costs have not been decided and that there are many different open source models that are compatible wiht its patent licensing plans.

Micrsoft said its broad interoperability announcement on Feb 21 will open access to a broad slew of server and client products, RAND patents and improved compatibility with open source vendors. As part of its newly launched open source interoperability initiative, Microsoft will offer support for a variety of XML document formats -- including its own OpenXML, rival ODF, and emerging standards such as UOF and Daisy.

With Novell, Microsoft demonstated the downloadable translator's improved performance and handling of ODF-based OpenOffice 2.4 documents in Word 2007 and Word documents on Novell's edition of OpenOffice 2.4. execs noted the translator will also work with the forthcoming OpenOffice 3.0 upgrade in 2008.

"The era of the proprietary format is gone and has been for years now [OpenXML} is owned by the community," Robertson said. "And vendors that don't respond are going to be irrelevant in the future."

It's not the first time Microsoft has promised interoperability and fallen far short of the mark, at least in the eyes of government regulators, rivals and some customers. With its latest effort, Microsoft is going to have to make good on some big promises and get the overall community -- inclusing skeptical open source developers -- to buy into the plan. Or is it a ploy to get ISO approval? You weigh in.

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