Microsoft agrees to open format converter

Following pressure from government leaders, Microsoft has decided to make its Office products interoperable with the Open Document Format (ODF).

The software maker announced July 5 that it is offering free, downloadable converter add-ins for existing Office products. Company officials said Microsoft released the tools in response to government requests for interoperability with ODF, a file format for text, spreadsheets and other office documents that is based on Extensible Markup Language (XML).

ODF is an alternative to proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word (.doc), Excel (.xls) and PowerPoint (.ppt).

ODF was conceived of as a way to save government records so that any application can read them in the future, regardless of the software that created the original document.

Massachusetts’ government has been leading the shift from proprietary to open formats. It has thousands of Microsoft Office users. The open-file format did not work with most Office software before last week's development.

The company’s new release could help Massachusetts employees comply with a recent state mandate that all Executive Department agencies adopt open-document formats by 2007.

In the past, Massachusetts officials had said that a compatible Microsoft product or plug-in allowing Office to work with ODF files could be acceptable under the mandate.

State leaders now seem satisfied with Microsoft's solution.

"We had spoken with Microsoft about plug-ins and applaud Microsoft's decision to back an open-source effort in this area," said Louis Gutierrez, Massachusetts’ new chief information officer.

Microsoft will develop and license Office translation tools as open-source software, company officials said.

Separately, Microsoft is seeking the International Organization for Standardization’s approval for Microsoft Office Open XML Formats. ISO granted international standard status to ODF this spring.

“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.”

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