Finally, a solution that "opens" up Word to the rest of the office suite world

Interoperability between office suite file formats has long been a thorn in the side of corporate workers. One may receive a document in the nearly de facto Word format, only to find that it’s unreadable by his WordPerfect software. To make matters worse, not all file formats within the same family but across different generations are compatible. Files saved in Office 2007 are unreadable in older versions of Office unless the user specifically saves the files in an older, more compatible format.

To tackle this problem, projects were started to create open formats that multiple office software suites would use. One such format is the Open Document Format, or ODF, backed by IBM, Sun Microsystems and Novell. In a bit of a counter move to idea of an open format, Microsoft has its own “open” format called Office Open XML, or OOXML, which is the default document format in Office 2007.

As an effort to help solve this apparent gap between the two open formats, Microsoft has funded an open source project to create a translator tool that will convert file formats between ODF and Open XML, which saw its 1.0 release of the technology last week. The completed Open XML Translator enables conversion of documents from one format to the other and is available for anyone to download and use at no cost.

As a plug-in for Microsoft Word, for example, the translator provides the choice to open and save documents in ODF rather than the native Open XML format. The translator may also be plugged into competing word processing programs that use ODF as the default format to open and save documents in Open XML.

Microsoft announced its support for the open source project to build a technical bridge between Open XML and ODF in July 2006 to provide interoperability between formats. Since inception, it has remained among the 30 most active projects on and has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.

"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 1.0 release of the Translator supports the current industry-standard document formats of both Open XML and ODF. It has been tested on Microsoft Office 2007, Office 2003 and Office XP and has been localized into Dutch, French, German and Polish. In addition, Novell has announced that the Translator will be natively implemented in its next version of OpenOffice.

The second phase of the translator project, including translators for spreadsheets (Excel) and presentations (PowerPoint), will begin in February. Regular customer technology previews will be posted to beginning in May 2007, and the final versions are scheduled to be available for customers in November 2007. The Microsoft-funded translator project is being developed by French company CleverAge and Sonata Software Ltd. of India, and tested by Dialogika of Germany and India-based Aztecsoft Ltd.

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