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Microsoft Produces One-Way ODF Translator

Microsoft  has delivered on half of its promise to build a bridge between its own Office Open XML document format and the Open Document Format (ODF) favored by the open source community and many governments.

ODF, which was ratified by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in May 2006, is the format used in OpenOffice, a rival productivity suite to Microsoft Office that is supported by Sun Microsystems , IBM  and others.

The new Open XML Translator enables Microsoft Office users to open and work on documents created in ODF format and to save those documents in ODF format. It is available for free at Source Forge under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license.

"We are really enabling interoperability," noted Jean Paoli, general manager of Open XML architecture at Microsoft.

However, the translator doesn't allow users of OpenOffice to open documents formatted using Microsoft's Open XML. Microsoft is leaving that part of the job to Novell , with which it signed a milestone agreement last year.

Paoli told internetnews.com that Novell is "using the same translation software to develop a plug-in for OpenOffice allowing OpenOffice users" to open and work on Microsoft Word documents.

"Novell is working on that as we speak," he said. However, Microsoft would not say when Novell would complete this work.

Microsoft has also begun work on translators for its spreadsheet and presentation software, which it expects to be available by the end of the year.

Microsoft still believes in the value of its own standard, Open XML, which was approved by the ECMA standards body in December 2006, and is likely to be ratified by the ISO later this year.

"We really believe there are many formats in the world and those two are done with different design goals," said Jason Matusow, senior director for intellectual property and interoperability for Microsoft.

Many critics of Open XML, however, have argued that Microsoft is making interoperability difficult by intentionally creating over 2,000 pages of documentation, and by burying proprietary code within the documentation.

They have also charged Microsoft with "belittling" the ODF standard.

Paoli disagrees, although he described the ODF format as "very minimalistic," contrasting it with Open XML, which he characterized as "more maximalistic in that it supports all the features" of a Microsoft Word document.

"Sometimes, because Microsoft features cannot be fully shown in ODF, they may be lost, but those losses are transparent [thanks to the translator]," he explained.

He said the two standards "have two very respected design goals."

Matusow said that proponents of ODF, in particular IBM, oppose the Open XML standard for competitive reasons.

"Sometimes the competition bubbles over into documentation and document format," he said.

He further explained that the documentation supporting Open XML is as voluminous as it is in order to be all-inclusive.

"It's not an attempt to obfuscate when it fact it exposes more and more of the technology," noted Matusow.