Microsoft Steps Up With OpenDocument Format

Microsoft Corp.  today voted to support the addition of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.0 to the non-exclusive American National Standards list (ANSI), saying customers asked for it. The move is the latest step in the company’s about-face around the standard for document interoperability.

Ratified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) last May, ODF 1.0 allows text, spreadsheet and presentation files to work with one another, even if they were created with different vendors’ applications.

ANSI oversees the development of standards for products and systems in the United States, and coordinates with international groups (such as ISO) through its International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) group. Microsoft, along with IBM , HP , Apple  and others, sits on the INCITS executive board.

“We have listened to our customers, and they have told us they want choice, they want interoperability, they want innovation,” said Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft, in a statement.

Robertson also noted that ANSI does not include a number of popular document format standards, such as PDF, .doc, RTF and HTML, and even Microsoft’s own Office Open XML (OOXML) document format.

“The inclusion of ODF is just the beginning; we expect the list will grow in the future to reflect the choices customers already have in today’s marketplace.”

Microsoft’s position on ODF, driven by Sun Microsystems , IBM and other rivals, was not always so cordial.

While ODF was going through the approval process, Microsoft was seeking support for its alternative OOXML, and often dismissed ODF as “too limited.”

Following several months of staunch refusal to back ODF, Microsoft relented to customer demand in July 2006, creating the Open XML Translator project to build a bridge between OOXML and the ODF.

The company delivered half of its pledge in February, allowing Microsoft Office users to open and work on documents created in ODF format and to save those documents in ODF format.

The translator doesn’t yet allow users of OpenOffice to open documents formatted using Microsoft’s Open XML, though Novell is working on that thanks to a joint partnership geared toward promoting more software interoperability.

Meanwhile, OOXML gained ECMA support last December; ISO approval is pending for late 2007 or early 2008.

Robertson said he also expected OOXML to pass muster with ANSI.

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