Microsoft Translator Strengthens Open Standards Commitment

Microsoft’s self-proclaimed commitment to open standards became more tangible Thursday when it released the first Open XML translator for Word.

Version 1.0 of the translator, which is a free, downloadable add-on to the word processor, allows users to convert Office Open XML (OOXML) documents into the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard, and vice versa. When used with Word, it can translate documents from their native Open XML standard into ODF; plugged into competing, ODF-based word processors, it converts documents into Open XML.

The translator was tested on Microsoft Office 2007, Office 2003 and Office XP, and is also available in Dutch, French, German and Polish versions.

Global Cooperation

Microsoft announced its sponsorship of the translator project last July. The technology was developed by CleverAge, a French firm, and Sonata Software of India; testing was carried out by Dialogika of Germany and India-based Aztecsoft. It is available for download at SourceForge.net.

“We believe in delivering interoperability by design; in this case, by working with partners and members of the open source community we have achieved that goal,” said Tom Robertson, general manager for Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft. “The translator project has been built to be independent of any one application, and has proved to be useful for both Microsoft and our competitors in solving an interoperability challenge for customers.”

The second phase of the translator project, which will focus on Excel spreadsheet software and PowerPoint for presentations, will begin in February, with new add-ons due to be available in November, officials said.

A Question of Motives

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has caused considerable controversy in the industry by advocating its Open XML as an industry standard. Ecma International, a standards-setting body, approved the format as a standard (Ecma 376) in December. It was also approved for submission to the Industry Standards Organization (ISO) for approval through its fast-track ISO/IEC JTC1 process.

Given that the ODF standard had already been developed and standardized by the ISO — and recognized by several state and national governments — many view the OOXML standard as Microsoft’s attempt to keep control over users of its Office software.

Open XML also is regarded as a good effort at supporting open standards.

“This is probably good for everybody,” Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner Group, told LinuxInsider. “It was the right move for Microsoft to make, and the first real proof that they are more open than they have been.”

Which Will Win?

Whether it’s ODF or OOXML that ultimately ends up as the true standard, on the other hand, remains to be seen. “If both are equally open, and people believe that, I’m not sure it will matter all that much,” Silver said. “But it does sound like OOXML is more complete in several areas.”

Some vendors have complained that the ODF was not thorough enough for them to be able to build complete products around it, Silver noted. In addition, ODF does not adequately standardize mathematical functions, he explained. So, even through ODF appears to be further along in the industry standardization process, it may not be as far ahead as it seems to be.

Ultimately, it’s possible we may end up with two standards, at least for the next few years. “We may see government agencies on ODF and corporate on Office XML,” Silver predicted. “We think the next two or three years will be interesting in terms of how all this shakes out.”

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