Open XML Translator project announced (ODF support for Office)


Today we are announcing the creation of the Open XML Translator project that will help translate between the Office Open XML formats and the OpenDocument format. We’ve talked a lot about the value the Open XML formats bring, and one of them of course is the ability to filter it down into other formats. While we still aren’t seeing a strong demand for ODF support from our corporate or consumer customers, it’s now a bit different with governments. We’ve had some governments request that we help build solutions so that can use ODF for certain situations, so that’s why we are creating the Open XML Translator project. I think it’s going to be really beneficial to a number of folks and for a number of reasons.


There has been a push in Microsoft for better interoperability and this is another great step in that direction. We already have the PDF and XPS support for Office 2007 users that unfortunately had to be separated out of the product and instead offered as a free download. There will be a menu item in the Office applications that will point people to the downloads for XPS, PDF, and now ODF. So you’ll have the ability to save to and open ODF files directly within Office (just like any other format).


For me, one of the really cool parts of this project is that it will be open source and located up on SourceForge, which means everyone will have the ability to see how to leverage the open architectures of both the Office Open XML formats and ODF. We’re developing the tools with the help of Clever Age (based in France) and a few other folks like Aztecsoft (based in India) and Dialogika (based in Germany). There should actually be a prototype of the first translator (for Word 2007) posted up on SourceForge later on today (http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter). It’s going to be made available under the BSD license, and anyone can provide feedback, submit bugs, and of course directly contribute to the project. The Word tool should be available by the end of this year, with the Excel and PPT versions following in 2007.


There are a few other key points I want to call out:




  1. Choice – It’s always great to offer choices to customers, and as most people are aware we already have a number of formats we’ve already built in Office to meet different customer scenarios. The Open XML formats that are going to be the default in Office 2007 are going to be the most important in my mind. It’s the Open XML formats that allow us to build the ODF support (and will open doors to a number of other formats as well). The PDF and XPS functionality would be another example of new formats we’re providing this release.


  2. Great example of Open XML development – The project is going to be an open source project located up on SourceForge, so that means anyone has the opportunity to take a look and see how it’s done. This should help folks see what challenges are involved mapping from Open XML into ODF, and what tradeoffs will need to be made. We had a tool for the WordprocessingML format from Word 2003 that let you transform it into HTML, but it didn’t go the other way. I think this new tool will be another great example of what you can do with these formats.


  3. Interoperability – We’ve really been focusing on this a lot in the past year. I talked last month about our push towards interoperability by design. There is now a letter from Chris Capossela called “A Foundation for the New World of Documents” that’s located up on the interoperability site that I’d encourage you to check out if you’re interested in learning more (http://www.microsoft.com/interop).


  4. Big challenges ahead – There are definitely going to be some challenges in this project, but I think that the approach of making it an open process will really help us achieve the best results. One area I’m going to be interested to follow is how to map features that aren’t specified in the ODF spec. OpenOffice has actually made the decision to extend the spec in ways that don’t actually appear to be allowed (like with numbering formats), and I’m not sure if that’s the right way to go. I’ve seen a lot of problems when moving documents from OpenOffice to KOffice for example, and I’m sure these divergences from the spec don’t help out. Is the right thing to extend in the same ways OpenOffice did, or is it best to wait for OASIS to release the next version of the spec and hope that it specifies some of those missing features? Nobody wants a format that’s constantly changing, so if you do decide to extend the format like OpenOffice did, what happens when ODF 2.0 comes out and it specifies that feature differently from how OpenOffice did it? What about features that aren’t in ODF or in OpenOffice? Should we create new extensions ourselves or just lose that information? It’s going to be fun working with everyone to figure this stuff out.

Another cool piece of this is that it will also work in older versions of Office. This is because the tools leverage the Open XML support, and we’re providing free updates to previous versions of Office that allow them to read and write Open XML. It’s another great benefit of leveraging the Open XML formats for the tool.


So, this should be an interesting 2nd half to the year. We have the Ecma Open XML spec progressing rapidly; Office 2007 coming closer to shipping; and now an open source project to leverage the Open XML formats for interoperability. Sounds like fun… well at least to those of us who care about file formats!


-Brian

Comments (83)

  1. Patrick Schmid says:

    Quite a surprise 🙂

    I have to admit though that I was tempted asking whether you are looking to implement ODF when you posted all those questions about it 😉

    What arguments are there left now for using other Office programs on Windows instead of Office 2007…?

    Patrick

  2. RequiredName says:

    "There are definitely going to be some challenges in this project, but I think that the approach of making it an open process will really help us achieve the best results. One area I’m going to be interested to follow is how to map features that aren’t specified in the ODF spec."

    Why don’t you join the OASIS Technical Comittee and help make ODF cover these areas instead of publicly showing (dishonest?) concern?

    Really, what is keeping Microsoft, an OASIS member, from contributing to the public standardization process of ODF?

  3. AlexHudson says:

    This is a great move. All we need now is a way of making it so that Office transparently opens and saves in the ODF format by default.

    I don’t think the ODF spec. shifting is going to be a problem. The committee are already aware of things which could impact backwards and forwards compability (eg., tables in presentations), and seem to be handling things well.

    With these tools being developed as free software, that also means that the community can pick them up and run with them. Exciting times…

  4. Thomas Lee says:

    Excellent. Thank you.

    At last the folks in Redmond have woken up and smelt the (opendoc) coffee and are on the bus.

    I’m certainly not going to be doing much with ODF, but it’s great to know I can. This decision makes sense and makes a lot of issues just plain go away.

  5. Mark Bower says:

    Now this is an interesting development.  Microsoft is funding and providing architectural guidance to…

  6. ECMGuy says:

    This is great news and is a good example of the type of  support the iECM (interoperable enterprise content management) grous efforts. More infromation is located on their blog here: http://iecm.blogspot.com/

  7. Wesley Parish says:

    Well done!  I’m downloading it as I write.  I presume it will work with the Office 2007 Beta?

    Question: you say "Another cool piece of this is that it will also work in older versions of Office."  How far back will Microsoft Office be supported?  Which earlier versions?

  8. Fernando says:

    <i>Why don’t you join the OASIS Technical Comittee and help make ODF cover these areas instead of publicly showing (dishonest?) concern? </i>

    I think the concern is genuine. ODF was standardized in a haste in order to score a political coup for Sun and IBM, and now all its shortcomings are becoming clear.

    This is a terrific announcement, and BSD licensing is a master stroke. When the inevitable complaints about format loss appear and blame will be directed to the translator, Microsoft answer will be "ok, you can use the source and try to fix it", and everyone will realize that the problem is with the ODF format itself.

  9. Rosyna says:

    I can’t help but feel this was done in reaction to Adobe’s fears about PDF. They just feel similar.

  10. none says:

    When are the Office 97, 2000, XP plugins comming?

  11. Tom says:

    This move is a total 180 from the closed DOC format that is currently being used.  It’s easy to talk about interoperability now, but I will never forget the 10 years of vendor lockin that has plaged the industry.  

    I’m glad that you are finally caving to the demands of governments and providing people with the openness they deserve.  

    Now go and port Microsoft Office to Linux and give out full documentation of your server protocols.  

  12. Andrew says:

    "Nobody wants a format that’s constantly changing, so if you do decide to extend the format like OpenOffice did, what happens when ODF 2.0 comes out and it specifies that feature differently from how OpenOffice did it? What about features that aren’t in ODF or in OpenOffice? Should we create new extensions ourselves or just lose that information?"

    When I read that, it reminded me of how Internet Explorer has been developed. Glad to see that it looks like you care about standardization, unlike you counterparts in the IE department.

  13. shywolf9982 says:

    That’s great news. And I have to agree that OpenOffice probably made a mistake by extending ODF that way. We have a mixed environment in our company (KOffice / OpenOffice – NeoOffice / MS Office) and it would be great to have a common format for every document.

    To go a little bit further, I’m intrested to see what will be the adoption of OpenXML once it becomes standardized.

    Once there are no more "political matters" in its adoption by opensource projects, it might gain a widspread adoption.

    And I’m glad to see that Microsoft is doing a lot of efforts to get back on a reasonable track, recognizing opensource and open standards value.

  14. G Platts says:

    Quote: "What arguments are there left now for using other Office programs on Windows instead of Office 2007…? "

    Its price, its bloat with features most of us never use,  Its menu system, oh & it is only available for the one operating system so it is not the best solution for a mixed environment.  

  15. Dusty says:

    Good news.  

    At the company I work for, we use MS Office and really will need ODF compatibility for that to continue in the future.

    I would imagine there are several other companies out there that would really benefit from ODF support, but like me are small enough that they don’t think a large company such as MS would listen to their request.

    Just wanted to point out that because you haven’t heard much from customers doesn’t mean they don’t really want it.

    Thanks for your work.

  16. steve says:

    "and one of them of course is the ability to filter it down into other formats".

    There you go again: keep referring to other formats as below, lesser, not as good as yours enough and people will start believing you.

  17. Microsoft announced the Open XML Translator project yesterday as detailed in Brian Jones’ blog post….

  18. Joe Benitez says:

    Thank you for doing the right thing. Take it one step further and become involved in the ODF Technical Commmittee in Oasis to make sure that any concerns you have about the format are resolved there.

    That’s the place to make things work. I am the document and format manager for a consortium of European Universities that is working on this issue. If you get ODF support in Microsoft Office, we will actually continue to use it. Otherwise, it will get the boot. Therefore, this news is both welcome and I hope that it fully materializes.

    If you do nothing else this year, put everything you got on the ODF burner because as counterintuitive as it may seem to many of your colleagues at Microsoft, have ODF support will likely be a deal maker in many large corporate and public administration scenarios.

    Here’s to hoping that you deliver.

    Good luck.

  19. tecosystems says:

    Breaking with my long-standing tradition of bringing you the news long after it’s broken, I’ve got some early commentary on the news that Microsoft has announced support for the Open Document Format. This analysis was made possible by the folks…

  20. shaun bradley says:

    beta this , beta that, beta embrace, beta extend, beta crush

    biggest vapourware company ever.

  21. anonomous says:

    Interesting…all this noise about how MS should provide converters to/from ODF.

    How about OpenOffice providing converters to/from the new OpenXML formats?

  22. Craig Buchek says:

    I think the right thing to do regarding extended features is to put them in a separate XML namespace. Much like Office currently does with HTML. (Well, OK, I’d like it to actually be a good implementation, instead of a terrible implementation. As usual, Microsoft had good theory behind their choices.) So if Microsoft wants to make sure that their unsupported Frobnation feature is not lost in ODF documents, they would add a frob:xyz attribute or element. The trick is to make sure it falls back to correct behavior if the reader doesn’t know about Frobnation. Much like the current trend toward graceful degradation using unobtrusive JavaScript.

  23. Stephen O’Grady of Redmonk provides some in-depth analysis on the news than Microsoft will sponsor an…

  24. G Platts says:

    Quote:"How about OpenOffice providing converters to/from the new OpenXML formats?"

    I’m sure as soon as they can they will.  They have always made the effort to support Microsoft formats in the past with no cooperation or information from Microsoft.

    When it comes to interoperability Open Office have *not* been the problem, more often than not they have been the solution.

  25. Kudos for doing the right thing here Brian!

    Now, if we could only resolve the details of the OXML citation implementation (including citation styling) so we can ensure seemless interoperaiblity going forward 😉

  26. marc says:

    Monday, June 05 2006, Brian Jones said ( http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2006/06/05/618089.aspx#618437 ):

    "We won’t provide ODF support natively in Office 2007. I’m sure we’ll see a number of 3rd party add-ins for Office that allow it to read and write ODF though"

    Wednesday July 05 2006, Microsoft said ( http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/jul06/07-06OpenSourceProjectPR.mspx ):

    "[Microsoft] announced the creation of the Open XML Translator project….A prototype version of the first translator added to Word 2007 will be posted today on the open source software development Web site SourceForge

    (http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter)"

    Brian, please be sincere when blogging here, respect your readers

    why didn’t you say:

    "i’m not allowed to say if we will or not provide ODF support"

    or

    "yes, we will provide ODF support in Office 12, we’ll see several MSOOXML-ODF translations tools sponsored from Microsoft"

    This is a marketing blog or a technical one? we must believe your words or read between lines?

    -Marc

  27. Lorin Olsen says:

    Outstanding!  This is wonderful news.  First, we are going to support the OASIS spec.  Second, we are going to see this translator/converter available under an open source license.  Third, we will have a real competitior to PDF that is fully open.  I am so thrilled by this!  These kinds of minor victories are the reason that I joined Microsoft earlier this year.  

    Yes, Microsoft is participating in the community process!  I wonder who from the community will participate in this community project.  

  28. RMX says:

    Brian wrote: "While we still aren’t seeing a strong demand for ODF support from our corporate or consumer customers"

    Perhaps the reason is that smaller corporations make the moves more quietly than governments that get a lot of public exposure.

    We were in the process of transistioning to ODF-based office suites (since 90% of us use minimal features from those products) and the heavy Office users complained a bit but not enough to justify the cost of getting Office for everyone.    These users will surely thank you for this plug-in since it should now be pretty easy to justify getting Office for those people who actually do use most of the features.

  29. Steven Brown says:

    It seems this converter is deficient for real use of ODF.  The Word 2007 plugin says it can only import the ODF read-only and by translating it to OpenXML which is a potentially lossy operation.  To save the ODF document, it needs to be exported to a new filename.

    This means that you can’t use Word 2007 to work on a ODF file, as each time you need to make a change, you chew up the document.  It’s not a workable solution as-is.

  30. Port 25 says:

    Linux Format reported on Port 25 recently with the tagline “Reports of snowballs seen in hell as Microsoft offers to work with Linux developers,” which I thought was funny.  It’s apparently getting even colder down there as we’ve now announced an open

  31. John Robins says:

    Brian,

    You told us ODF was no big deal, now it seems you changed your mind.

    You told us openxmldeveloper.org was the place to get info on the new Microsoft XML file format. But Microsoft employees don’t answer questions there.

  32. James Jones says:

    Interesting, but… after, as a Founding Father would say, "a long train of abuses and usurpations," I have to ask myself: what’s the catch?

    Some have suggested that MS will be counting on user inertia, i.e. that people won’t go out of their way to install the converter, to make it irrelevant while still claiming support for interoperability and for ODF.

    I’m wondering whether it will do what one would expect for a converter, i.e. converting one way and then back should be the identity mapping, whatever Office or ODF document one starts with. Also, will the licensing be GPL-compatible?

  33. As usual, I’m slow in my blog posting – but I’ve been a bit busy on the back end working with a great…

  34. What jolly good news.

    Thank you for listening!

  35. Kevin Dente says:

    Very cool. Out of curiosity, why SourceForge and not CodePlex?

  36. Wagner de Queiroz says:

    Realmente é uma ótima notícia. Espero que com este projeto, eu possa trocar arquivos com usuários do Microsoft Office.

  37. Doug Mahugh says:

    Well, not built-in, but today’s announcement of the Open XML Translator, an open-source project to deliver…

  38. BobotheClown says:

    Great news for the world, bad news for Microsoft.

    Most people use only the simple functions in Office. Now a company can replace most of its copies of Office with OpenOffice, and just keep Office on the much smaller number of computers that really need it.

    And if companies don’t need Office on all their computers, then many can get ride of Windows, too.

  39. rk says:

    Definitely participate. The more you try to "extend" ODF with extra information, the less transparent this move will look. If a standard element isn’t yet present then if your group participates and helps create it, it will look very good on your part and no one can ligitimately complain that you are bullying the standards committees because that extensibility IS needed and it IS open. You do have to be flexible enough to bend towards standards that are present, even if it will affect presentation, rather than trying to use something that does 85% of the same function but the extra 15% makes it look more like wordml etc.

  40. T says:

    All I can say: Awesome.

    I really like Office, and wait eagerly for Office 2007 for Mac. However, reason for why we were ditching Offices for next software update was formats. Now this means Office is back on the competition for our next upgrade, altough more expensive than other solutions, and most likely it will win it. We have lots of Linux and Mac workstations too (We develope cross-platform server software). This means we can finally share documents between all systems without any fuss.

    Thank you 🙂

    (Ps. I left name of the company and software out, since I don’t know if I’m really authorized to talk about our software selections)

  41. Marbux says:

    Will the plug-in allow users to set OpenDocument as the default file save format? The Massachusetts ITD’s ETRM 3.5 requires:

    >>>Agencies will need to develop phased migration plans allowing them to configure existing applications to save office documents by default in the OpenDocument format with an implementation date of January 1, 2007. Any acquisition of new office applications must support the OpenDocument format natively.

    * * * * *

    [Each] Department will be required to:

      1. Use office applications that provide conformance with the OpenDocument format, and

      2. Configure the applications to save office documents in OpenDocument format by default.

    <<<

  42. orcmid says:

    Very interesting blather in the commentary about this announcement.

    First, I am happy to see the existence of a translator project.  It will be a great place to hammer out the interchange breakage and figure out ways to deal with it.  It happens to use my preferred license, which I also find encouraging.  

    I agree that one should not introduce extensions the way OpenOffice.org does it, but honor the specifications provision for "foreign" elements and arbitrary elements in appropriate places.

    Finally, I want to remark that Microsoft folks do respond on the OpenXMLDeveloper forum.   Brian does, and so does Doug Mahugh.

    Interesting, more interesting, and very promising.  Congratulations.

  43. orcmid says:

    PS: There was an announcement of a project to make a translator from Office Open XML to ODF a while back.   I haven’t heard anything since.  There’s some coverage at http://arstechnica.com/journals/microsoft.ars/2006/5/6/3866 from May 6.  Also at http://news.com.com/2061-10795_3-6069640.html?part=rss&tag=6069640&subj=news and http://news.com.com/Microsoft+Office+to+get+a+dose+of+OpenDocument/2100-1013_3-6069188.html?tag=nl

    You can apparently find out more on Groklaw.

  44. BTW, Brian, on your questions:

    <blockquote>Is the right thing to extend in the same ways OpenOffice did, or is it best to wait for OASIS to release the next version of the spec and hope that it specifies some of those missing features? Nobody wants a format that’s constantly changing, so if you do decide to extend the format like OpenOffice did, what happens when ODF 2.0 comes out and it specifies that feature differently from how OpenOffice did it? What about features that aren’t in ODF or in OpenOffice? Should we create new extensions ourselves or just lose that information?</blockquote>

    The right approach is for MS to be actively involved in the ODF TC and raise these questions directly, just like there is at least one member of TC45 that is on the ODF TC. Both specs benefit from that sort of direct communication.

    Indeed, clarifying ambiguities in the spec is one part of what we do, and we will be releasing v1.1 later this year that includes corrections/clarifications, and then 1.2 next year that no doubt adds some more, along with new features like metadata and the new formula stuff. As a part of all this, we will be outlining a policy WRT to backward compatability.

    But beyond that, the ODF spec does include rules about extension. Just avoid breaking them?

  45. Wesley Parish says:

    Just a minor issue – I’ve got a couple of copies of the "Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007 Beta2" – with a couple of PC mags I just bought today.  They expect to be installed on MS XP SP2.  My preferred Microsoft Operating System is MS Win2k, unless it’s a Microsoft server we’re talking about, in which case it’s MS Win2k3.  (Of course, if it’s the real world we’re talking about … 😉

    Disappointing.

    Looks like I’ll be testing the plugin in MS Office 97, instead.  And compiling it with dotGNU, since the Microsoft .Net Framework won’t install on MS Win95.  This provides me with a definition of "Recreational Impossibility" only slightly more challenging than getting such-and-such a bureaucracy to acknowledge a change-of-address form. 😉

    I may as well see what can be done to turn its conversion procedures around as well – since it’s taken Clever Age only since October 2005 to get this far.  Not good, not at all good.

  46. BrOffice.org says:

    &lt;p&gt;O &lt;a href=&quot;http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/&quot; target=&quot;_new&quot;&gt;blog de Brian Jones&lt;/a&gt;, um dos gerentes de projeto do Office 2007 na &#225;rea de formatos XML, &lt;a href=&quot;http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2006/07/05/657510.aspx&quot;

  47. First, I would like to thank everyone that provided feedback on our PivotTable questions – there were…

  48. Zillable.net says:

    Une des dernire barrire sur la voie de l’interoprabilit vient de s’effondrer. Microsoft  annonc la cration d’un plugin pour MS Office qui lui permettra de lire et d’crire en format OpenDocument. A noter qu’il existe un plugin similaire

  49. One area of note as Office 2007 support is a larger array of supported file formats. Heres a link to…

  50. There were a lot of great comments from last week’s announcement about the creation of an open source…

  51. Tor2 says:

    As for changing/upgrading specs of the odf format, it should be possible to do that without too much harm. FrameMaker used its MIF (Maker Interchange format) for years, and they kept upgrading it all the time. What was truly amazing was that you could save a document in Frame 5 to MIF format, then read it with a 7-year old version, Frame 3, and it would spew out some messages about unknown tags but the document you got in the end looked essentially just as it should.  Frame’s MIF format was back- AND forward compatible. So it certainly can be done.

  52. BrianJones says:

    Tor2, yes, the ability to extend the formats is build into both the Ecma Open XML as well as OpenDocument. My point though was that currently the OpenDocument spec is actually in a sort of limbo as it doesn’t yet define how a number of commonly used features (like spreadsheet formulas) are used.

    The problem with this is that if the ODF spec isn’t yet complete in terms of existing features like formulas, then applications like OpenOffice have had to extend it (and those extensions are not defined in the spec).

    Now, the OpenDocument folks are saying that in the fall of 2007 they can expect to have the next version of ODF ready which should define how formulas work. What happens then with all those OpenOffice files that stored formulas in an OpenOffice specific way rather than in the way defined in the spec? They can update the next version of OpenOffice to work with the new format for formulas, but that doesn’t help people who are on older versions of OpenOffice, and it also doesn’t help with interoperability of those older files.

    If you wanted to create a file that could be read by older versions of OpenOffice, you would need both formula formats saved into the file.

    -Brian

  53. Tor2 says:

    Brian, I think those are very valid points indeed.

    Even FrameMaker ran into some of those issues though,

    some features in the MIF format were actually stored in

    two different forms in the file, as the MIF format was changed

    to do things in a slightly different way.  Old FrameMaker

    versions would write the old format, new versions would

    write _both_ formats.. I wrote a converter once (MIF->LaTeX)

    so I saw some of those issues close up.

    However, even the oldest MIF format could be considered

    "complete" for the full set of features in the first FrameMaker though, so the ODF situation might be a bit different

    I guess.

    -Tor2

  54. BrianJones says:

    Yeah, that’s a good example of the spec evolving as new features are added, or people find better ways of doing stuff. The case with ODF though is really where it just isn’t complete. It looks to me more like they wanted to get it out the door in a hurry, so they didn’t bother specifying the more complicated features, and will instead do that later.

    This is a fine approach, but they should be honest about it. Most people pushing for ODF treat it as if it’s a complete spec capable of representing all the worlds documents, and that just isn’t the case.

    -Brian

  55. OK, forgive the random Sneaker Pimps reference and I promise we will move off this topic of ODF politics…

  56. Last week we held the Ecma TC45 face-to-face meetings out here in Redmond. It was a really productive…

  57. When I did my presentation on Open XML File Formats at TechEd someone asked me afterwards something to…

  58. The new ODF to Open XML Translator Project has been getting a lot of attention lately. This is a collaborative…

  59. Jean Goffinet pointed out that he and the folks working on the ODF to Open XML converter project now…

  60. Port 25 says:

    Linux Format reported on Port 25 recently with the tagline “Reports of snowballs seen in hell as Microsoft offers to work with Linux developers,” which I thought was funny. It’s apparently getting even colder down there as we’ve now announced an open

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