Microsoft Expands Document Interoperability

REDMOND, Wash. — July 5, 2006 — Expanding on its customer-focused commitment to interoperability, Microsoft Corp. today announced the creation of the Open XML Translator project. The project, developed with partners, will create tools to build a technical bridge between the Microsoft® Office Open XML Formats and the OpenDocument Format (ODF). This work is in response to government requests for interoperability with ODF because they work with constituent groups that use that format. In addition to being made available as free, downloadable add-ins for several older versions of the Microsoft Office system, the translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software. The translation tools will be broadly available to the industry for use with other individual or commercial projects to accelerate document interoperability and expand customer choice between Open XML and other technologies.

“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.

Interoperable by Design

Today Microsoft Office Word, Excel® and PowerPoint® already include built-in support for dozens of formats to enable interoperability across products. In addition to the default Open XML file formats, the 2007 Microsoft Office system will include a new menu option that points users to add-ins for PDF and XML-based formats such as the XML Paper Specification (XPS), and now ODF as well. Because these add-ins are available online from a download service, customers will have easy access to the latest industry file format options along with the comprehensive Open XML formats.

“Interoperability is a key priority of the government in the e-governance paradigm. Our ability to meet the needs of citizens will be greatly increased by the interoperability and integration of open, XML-based standards,” said M. Moni, deputy director general of the National Informatics Centre, who is spearheading the process of e-government standards in India. “It also empowers citizens to use the software of their choice. So, we are very pleased to see Microsoft take a responsible and open, yet practical, approach to our interoperability requirements.”

“Electronic document translation between different fixed formats is always going to be somewhat inexact. Like human language translations, concepts and specifications will differ in detail. This tool promises to be a very significant development in the trend towards practical open document standards and, critically, customer-friendly means to move between them. It can only be good for the IT industry’s customers and product and service innovators,” said Andrew Hopkirk, director of the U.K.’s National Computing Centre’s e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) Programme. “As the UK’s e-GIF Accreditation Authority and leading IT user membership organization, the National Computing Centre is very pleased to see that Microsoft’s interoperability commitments are bearing fruit in this vital area and we congratulate them for that.”

Working With Industry Partners

Microsoft is developing the translation tools in collaboration with the France-based IT solution provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany. A prototype version of the first translator added to Word 2007 will be posted today on the open source software development Web site SourceForge (, under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license, where anyone can submit bugs and feedback or contribute to the project. The complete version of the Word translation tool is expected to be available free from the download site by the end of 2006, with add-ins for Excel and PowerPoint expected in 2007. Older versions of Office will have access to the translation tool via a free Compatibility Pack, which also provides free updates to enable Open XML format support.

“OpenXML represents a paradigm shift not only in its architecture but also in the customer needs it serves, opening organizations’ existing documents to take advantage of new content management and collaboration scenarios that weren’t possible even as recently as a few years ago ,” said Frédéric Bon, CEO of Clever Age. “Through the documentation Ecma International is creating and work such as the Open XML Translator project, customers will soon have the confidence that Open XML and ODF formats can coexist and new document scenarios will flourish. We are looking forward to working with the community of developers and businesses interested in XML documents.”

Ongoing Commitment to Interoperability

As demonstrated by the recent announcement of the Interoperability Customer Executive Council and the significant industry contributions to the Open XML file formats from leading institutions like the British Library and Apple Computer Inc. at Ecma International, Microsoft is broadening its long-term investments in and attention to interoperability across industries and platforms through such avenues as product design, collaboration agreements with other companies, standards and the effective licensing of its intellectual property. Additional information about Microsoft’s customer-focused interoperability commitment, including an open letter titled “A Foundation for the New World of Documents” by Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Business Division Product Management Group at Microsoft, may be found online.

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