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Sunday, 09 March 2008 14:56

Microsoft promises ODF, OOXML interoperability

In the wake of the ISO rejecting Microsoft's OOXML document format as an international standard, Microsoft has launched its Document Interoperability Initiative pledging to work with industry to ensure its document formats remain interchangeable with industry standards.
Microsoft described the move as "an important step in Microsoft's commitment to implement a set of strategic changes in its technology and business practices to expand interoperability through the implementation of its interoperability principles."

Microsoft is under intense pressure from large users, particularly government bodies, to make its Office document formats open: They fear that the vast archive of important documents created over the years in different versions of Microsoft Office will result in them being held hostage by Microsoft as the only organisation able to provide the software to read them.

The initiative was launched at in Cambridge Massachusetts, with a number of independent software vendors including Novell, Mark Logic, Quickoffice, DataViz and Nuance Communications. Microsoft said a 'lab' would be held "to test interoperability between existing implementations of Microsoft Office Open XML Formats and the Open Document Format (ODF) on a variety of platforms and devices including Mac OS X Leopard, iPhone, Palm OS, Symbian OS, Linux and Windows Mobile."

Additional Microsoft-sponsored document interoperability events are currently planned in Seoul, Korea and in Berlin, Germany, in early April. Microsoft said they would include a set of integrated round table discussions between vendors about what steps should be taken to promote real-world interoperability between document format implementations in the marketplace. "This will include discussions about how testing can be refined, how best to develop conformance testing suites for popular formats, and how to create document templates that are optimised for interoperability between different format implementations."

Microsoft also announced the 1.1 release of a translator between ODF and Open XML for Microsoft Excel (spreadsheet) and Microsoft PowerPoint (presentation) applications. This is the result of an ongoing open source project for which Microsoft announced its support in July 2006. Microsoft says it has committed to support future releases of the translator that will take advantage of the improvements in Microsoft Office converter APIs announced as part of the interoperability principles on February 21 to provide a better integrated experience for customers to open and save ODF files. CONTINUED

Microsoft has been pushing hard to have OOXML adopted as an international standard, but has had little success and appears to be creating a deal of ill-feeling among the open source community.

Earlier this month a Ballot Resolution Meeting of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) in Geneva held to vote on acceptance of OOXML as an international standard concluded without coming anywhere close to agreement.

As iTWire reported earlier , "the first vote on whether to make OOXML an ISO standard was held on September 2, 2007 after lengthy specifications had been provided to the industry standards body ECMA by Microsoft. Round one was a pass with 19 'difficulties'- which resulted in a vote on OOXML being fast-tracked to the level of a standard."

After this month's Ballot Resolution Meeting Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, issued a statement saying: "It has again been demonstrated that the standardisation of OOXML in a fast-track process was entirely inappropriate...The BRM's failure to reach a decision reinforced the outcome of the initial ballot that ended on September 2, 2007."

She said that, "Despite the hard work by the many national standards bodies and ISO/IEC, the results fell far short of fixing the most important errors and omissions in OOXML. More than 80 percent of the comments from national bodies were not discussed."

According to ODF, "ECMA and Microsoft chose 'fast track' when the usual and more appropriate ISO approval process was available to them for a specification of this enormity. National bodies attempted to raise these concerns at the BRM and were told they were out of order and regardless there is no other option. In fact, there is no proscribed limit to how long a BRM can take place, and other ISO/IEC standards have taken considerably longer than five days to conduct a BRM.

"Many critical problems identified by national bodies were not discussed or resolved during the BRM...Intellectual property rights issues were left completely out of the BRM process. Resolution of well-founded intellectual property rights concerns are critical to the IT industry and governments and are legitimate issues for national bodies to consider as a group."

Marcich concluded" "The inability to address all the concerns underscores that OOXML should be rejected by national standards bodies. ECMA and Microsoft should seek technical harmonisation with the Open Document Format, already an ISO standard. Alternatively, they can pursue the usual ISO approval procedure instead of the 'fast-track' which is appropriately reserved for mature standards of reasonable scope and size."


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