Microsoft offers plug-in for Office document conversion

Perhaps in a move to resolve a yearlong skirmish over document formats, Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., has announced it is working on a set of plug-ins that would allow Microsoft Office applications to open and save documents in the Open Document Format.

The plug-ins could potentially resolve an issue that has been brewing within the Massachusetts government. In a technical reference model drafted last year, the Massachusetts Information Technology Division mandated that state agencies save office documents in a vendor-neutral, standards-based format to preserve longevity and promote interoperability. The office specified use of the Open Document Format, a set of Extensible Markup Language-based formats managed by Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., and others. ODF was then being reviewed by the International Organization of Standardization; it is now an official ISO standard.

Initially Microsoft officials objected to the specification of ODF, which the company's own office productivity suite, Microsoft Office, did not support. Microsoft officials felt that the mandate unfairly favored procurement of other productivity suites that did support ODF, such as Sun Microsystems StarOffice. Microsoft argued that its own new set of XML-based formats, Open XML, also met Massachusetts' criteria. Open XML is currently being reviewed by Ecma International.

At the time, Microsoft officials said they had no plans of supporting ODF in the next version of Microsoft Office, so this planned set of ODF translation tools comes as a surprise to many.

"We've had some governments request that we help build solutions so they can use ODF for certain situations, so that's why we are creating the Open XML Translator project," wrote Microsoft Office program manager Brian Jones on his blog yesterday ().

Yesterday, Microsoft posted on SourceForge the first component of this project?"ODF Add-In for Microsoft Word 2007," a prototype which allows users to open and save ODF documents within Microsoft Word. Additional plug-ins will support other Office applications, and all the plug-ins will fall under the open source BSD license.

Andy Updegrove, who follows the Massachusetts open-standards issue, questioned why the company chose this particular time to publicize the plug-ins, which seem to have been under development since last September. Although critical in the past of Microsoft's reluctance to support ODF, Updegrove applauded the initiative.

"Microsoft's latest concession clearly makes it easier for governments and other users to feel safe in making the switch from Office to ODF-supporting software, since Microsoft itself will be collaborating to make document exchanges smooth and effortless," he wrote.

Joab Jackson is a senior writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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