Microsoft tools build bridge between OpenXML, other formats

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled a free plug-in for Firefox to translate Open XML documents, an update to its document translator and a toolkit for Java developers that was built under the umbrella of its Document Interoperability Initiative.

The group released the OpenXML Document Viewer as an open source project on its Codeplex Web site. The viewer translates documents in the Open XML format, which became an ISO standard in April after much contentious debate, to HTML so they can be viewed on a browser. The viewer, which is still in the preview stage, eliminates the need for a user to install Microsoft Office or any other productivity tool set.

The first implementation developed by MindTree and Microsoft works with Firefox 3.0 running on Windows or Linux and translates font types, images, text styles, diagrams, tables and hyperlinks. In early to mid-2009, the project will add support for Opera and add server-side features.

The software was released during a Document Interoperability Initiative (DII) meeting this week in Belgium.

Microsoft created DII in March with the help of Novell, Mark Logic, Quickoffice, DataViz and Nuance Communications. The goal was to foster interoperability between document formats, most notably Open XML and the Open Document Format (ODF).

"Basically this is Microsoft sincerely going out and following up with what they did with OpenXML," said Peter O'Kelly, principal analyst with O'Kelly Consulting.

As part of that follow-up, Microsoft plans to support ODF in Office 2007 SP2, which is slated to ship next year.

On top of the Firefox plug-in, DII released Version 2.5 of the Open XML/ODF Translator, which supports Office 2003, 2007 and XP. The new version includes a set of ODF 1.1 compatible templates and chart enhancements for spreadsheet programs.

The templates provide preformatted documents, such as a business letter or fax sheet, that are based on either ODF or Open XML and allow predetermined conversions between formats.

DII also introduced an software developer kit for Java developers that aids in working with Open XML documents. The project aligns with the Apache POI project, which provides Java libraries for reading and writing in Microsoft Office formats.

All the DII software was released as open source projects.

"We have been seeing that a lot of people now understand that what is most important is the end user," said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability strategy for Microsoft. "Since for maybe a year now, we are seeing far less passion about the format issue and more rationality."

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