Thursday, July 06, 2006

Microsoft, Open XML, and ODF

Looking at the headlines today on TechMeme, I was excited to see that Microsoft was embracing interoperability with ODF. This is a step in the right direction for Microsoft; however, I am becoming more skeptical as I look into the details. Rather than natively supporting ODF as just another of the many file formats already being supported by Microsoft Office, they have instead decided to support ODF using special ODF / Open XML translation tools being developed by a third party. On the plus side, they will be releasing the translation tools under an open source license.

Here is the snippet from the Microsoft press release that has me worried:

“By enabling this translator, we will make both choice and interoperability a more practical option for our customers,” said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft. “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. Yet it is very important that customers have the freedom to choose from a range of technologies to meet their diverse needs.”

Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements. By developing the bidirectional translation tools through an open source project, the technical decisions and tradeoffs necessary will be transparent to everyone — Open XML and ODF advocates alike. The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, helping protect customers’ intellectual investments. Open XML formats are also distinguished by their approach to accessibility support for disabled workers, file performance and flexibility to empower organizations to access and integrate their own XML data with the documents they use every day. In contrast, ODF focuses on more limited requirements, is architected very differently and is now under review in OASIS subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options. As a result, certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a necessary part of translating between the two formats. (Microsoft)

Maybe I am a bit skeptical, but this seems to imply that the translation tools are designed to show us how the Open XML format is better than ODF. This does not give me warm fuzzy feelings about Microsoft's intent to support ODF. Others are also a bit skeptical.

If you are interested in trying it out, you can find the translator on SourceForge.

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