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Novell: Word, Meet Open Source

Novell  has come through on its first deliverable stemming from its controversial deal with Microsoft  last year.

The open source software vendor has produced a translator, available for download on its site, that allows users of OpenOffice, Novell's version of ODF, to read and edit documents produced using Microsoft Word 2007.

ODF is the OpenDocument format, which is supported by OpenOffice.org, and Open XML is the default file format for Microsoft Office 2007.

Last year's agreement was berated by open source purists as capitulating to the patent* demands of a proprietary software vendor at the expense of other open source distributions.

But the agreement has opened the door for users of open source software to open and work with documents prepared using Microsoft Office 2007 software. After downloading Novell's plug-in, ODF users can choose to save documents in the .docx format and can open Word documents sent via e-mail.

Translators already exist between ODF and earlier versions of Office.

Novell is also working on a project to create the bi-directional translator for spreadsheets and presentations prepared using Office 2007.

"We're still hard at it on the translator project," Novell spokesman Kevan Barney told internetnews.com.

But some critics have said that the translators aren't good enough for real-life business applications. For instance, they say, the translators accurately reflect the contents of documents, they are imperfect with regards to style and formatting.

Sam Hiser, director of business affairs at the Open Document Foundation, which helped create the ODF standard, noted that "this affects the way documents flow across business processes."

"I think we have a different definition of interoperability," he told internetnews.com last month, when Microsoft shipped its version of the translator.

Barney admitted the translators are not 100 percent faithful but said that he has worked with them "for years and I've never had a significant problem. It's never inhibited our ability to do business," he said.

* Corrected to reflect that Microsoft claims that some open source distributions infringe on its patents, not its trademarks.