Novell and Microsoft teaming up on document interoperability

I’m sure by now most folks have read the news on the collaboration agreement between Novell and Microsoft. If not, you can read more up on the Microsoft interoperability site: (Novell’s press release is here)

There are a number of really cool pieces to this (Jason Matusow blogged on this yesterday), and one of those directly relates to the Office Open XML file formats. With this announcement Novell has said they will do the development work to allow OpenOffice to support the Office Open XML formats. This plug-in will be directly distributed with their edition of OpenOffice, but it will also be provided back to the organization so that everyone can leverage it. 

Another great piece is that they are going to start participating in the Open XML Translator project. It’s an open source project we helped start back in the summer that will translate from Open XML to ODF and from ODF to Open XML. It’s a really sweet project because it could be plugged in just about anywhere. You can read more about it on the blog that the developers of the project set up (

Here is some more information from the FAQ up on Novell’s site (

Document Format Compatibility. Microsoft and Novell have been focusing on ways to improve interoperability between office productivity applications. The two companies will now work together on ways for OpenOffice and Microsoft Office users to best share documents and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument Formats.

As you know, Novell has been working with us the past year on the Ecma standardization of the Office Open XML file formats. Jody Goldberg, who works on both Gnumeric as well as Open Office was a huge help with SpreadsheetML. One of the key things that Novell was focused on was ensuring that the formats were fully documented and interoperable so that they could support them as well.

I also really liked reading Michael Meeks’ blog on this subject. Michael is a distinguished engineer from Novell who works on OpenOffice (and he’s Jody’s manager):

  • Inevitably people will have some really good questions here, and to save my fingers I thought I’d point out a few points.

    • Why help Microsoft with OpenXML interop. ? OpenXML sucks, OpenDocument Rocks !?. So several thoughts:

      • This should not be a surprise – Jody Goldberg (on my team) has been working hard for months with Microsoft and others on the ECMA process. At one stage there around 1/2 the open ‘issues’ wrt. improving disclosure (and hence the spec.) came from Jody. I for one am proud of the job that he did there, an (ongoing) investment that will yield better interoperability for years to come.

      • As I have said for many months now, focusing on an ‘Open-Standard’ of ~700 pages written by a small team over a short period, is to miss the staggering value that is found in Free software. OpenOffice (as anyone who tried to start it recently knows) contains millions of lines of code, and a staggering investment of thousands of man years of sweat, tears (and perhaps blood). It’s localized to umpteen languages, has deep help, scripting, accessibility, interoperability; it’s just an immensely feature rich and powerful product.

      • To re-emphasise this, the value in is not what file format it supports (eg. we want to add good Lotus Word Pro support) but that it is truly Free software, that gives people critical Freedoms. An open format is anyhow implicit in the native file format of any openly developed Free software project.

      • Telling people about open standards, instead of Free Software is easy – ‘normal’ people generate data, not software so they understand, but it sells them radically short. In my view better interoperability (with any and all formats) strengthens Free Software, quite without the obvious pragmatic benefits to users & customers.

    • Why do business with these scum ?

      • It’s true there is a widespread perception of unfair business practice from Microsoft out there, but my experience of working in the ECMA process with the developers, has been of meeting a (to my mind) mis-directed, but equally passionate world-view based around the love of their technology.

      • Broadly, I think it’s fair to say there is a certain kind of person that loves to solve complex, technical problems, and I like that kind of person. It’s also interesting to note that the average Microsoft (from my small sample) political viewpoint is -way- to the left of the average Novell Free software developer (perhaps a statistical aberration but …). So, in a nutshell, they’re good guys, if mis-directed. The great news is that we can help change that direction and get these guys addicted to the Free Software model.

      • One couple it was fun to meet, both on the Office team, obviously in love, confided in me that they had delayed their marriage to meet the Office 12 schedule: is that dedication ? Let’s hope Wedding 2007 will ship on time; but imagine if we can help focus these guys on improving Linux <-> Windows interoperability, and in time Free software for it’s own sake.

    • What does it mean for OpenOffice ? – my hope is over the long haul: better interop, more bodies hacking on OO.o, wider penetration of (Novell’s) OpenOffice into the enterprise, and more individuals able to boldly hack on Free software.

    • What does it mean for Hackers ? – of course, I’m pleased that our team got such a great formal IPR covenant for individual developers from Microsoft. For sceptics that think this is a pure gesture, it’s always surprising to me how a few key people seem to pop up again and again in Free software, and not everyone has the 7 year stamina that can be required, the RIAA demonstrates the danger well.

    • What does it mean for Novell ? – I’m pleased that it seems Microsoft will be distributing lots of SLES coupons, the more the merrier. Of course Nat and Miguel who helped setup the deal have a clearer view.

    • What is this Translator ? – it’s the early stages of a open-source project to make a standalone bi-directional Open XML to OpenDocument converter. See SourceForge: odf-converter. What is important to me is not the set of design choices here (eg. a standalone XML to XML converter, though that may be useful for other Free software projects, or it’s capabilities: a sub-set of Word only so far), but the end-goal of getting substantially better MS Office interop. (with OpenXML) into OO.o.

It’s really cool to see that there will be a number of office applications (Corell, OpenOffice, older versions of MS Office) that will have support for these formats. I’ve personally been even more excited about the smaller 3rd party non-“office-type” applications that can also now get involved in consuming and generating rich office documents. It continues to raise the value of office documents, as they are no longer just a black box, but instead every office document can serve as a data source. I’m like the possibilities for the developer community that keeps growing here. There is obviously a ton of valuable information that’s going to be made available via solution providers. The fact that to both consuming and generating documents has become so much easier is huge.

The translator project is particularly interesting though as it makes it easier for folks to choose the format they want to work with. The Office Open XML formats clearly have customer needs that they were designed to solve; and the OpenDocument format had customer needs that those folks were trying to solve.


P.S. Michael,
Tristan and Krista are still on track for the wedding (and it will actually be Wedding 2006, not 2007 🙂

Comments (9)

  1. orlando says:

    Dissipating the good intentions cloud, i believe it’s bad news for Linux, open source and interoperability. It seems that has begun the awaited step 2: spread FUD via software patents to stop Linux and open source menace.

  2. Microsoft et Novell ont annoncé, via les voix de Steve Ballmer et de Ron Hovsepian, president et CEO

  3. jake rivers says:

    Well with pc-bsd getting big time support by its acquisition from ixsystems, i can see why b$ll Gate$ will be scared, and want to team up with open souce soutions. Hmm how long till B$ll Gate$ makes widows opensource?


  4. Fernando says:

    This is fantastic news for both MS Office and OpenOffice users. This will likely mean that users of both suites will be able to collaborate using Open XML – an open standard with full compatibility with the existing document base.

    And I wonder if Florian Reuter joining Novell has anything to do with this annoucement. 😉

  5. Bebop says:

    "It’s true there is a widespread perception of unfair business practice from Microsoft out there, but my experience of working in the ECMA process with the developers, has been of meeting a (to my mind) mis-directed, but equally passionate world-view based around the love of their technology."

    That’s the developers, not the lawyers, nor the managers.  Unfair business practice doesn’t come from developers.

  6. omz says:

    Brian, could you address this two questions  from IBMS’s Rob Weir ? ( see )

    he asks ( quoting ):

    "[T]wo simple questions. I’m hoping Microsoft or Ecma can give a straightforward and unequivocal answer:

    1) Is the Office Open XML specification (1.5 "final draft") 100% compatible with all legacy Microsoft Office documents, meaning that a 3rd party, using solely information in this specification (and publicly available open standards), can create a utility on a non-Windows platform, say Linux, to convert any legacy Office document into OOXML without loss of data, function or appearance?

    2) Does the OOXML specification (1.5 "final draft") document the format sufficiently for someone to create a 100% compatible editor (spreadsheet, word processor, presentation) implementation on a non-Windows platform, say Linux? By 100% compatible I mean that it can load and interpret and display all OOXML documents without loss of data, function or appearance?


    Thanks in advance

  7. hAl says:

    I would suggest you do not answer those questions asked on Rob Weirs blog as he has decided to severly moderate on the commenting so his blog.

    I asked for instance on that blog in reply to his post if he thought it possible to make 100% interoperable Office documents just purely from the ODF specs. That hot potato he did not want to touch I guess.

    Also Rob in his blog said the only proof he accept for the compatibility must come from independant 3rd party implementations. So whatever Micrsoft says about the legacy compatibility he already states in his post that he does not accept it unless there is an independant third party application to bank it up. With that attitude you cannot really discuss anything anymore.

  8. says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. We wrapped up the development on Office 2007 last Friday and I’m actually taking this week off. I’ll pull together a quick post to mention this great milestone, but probably won’t get to anything else too interesting until next week.

    hAl and omz,

    I can’t really answer why Rob is blocking comments, but it’s his blog so he can do what he wants… I’ve often been tempted to do similar things since the comments can often get off topic, but I have too much fun with the conversations.

    I think that Rob has a similar view on the term "standard" as Ben does (who has posted a number of well thought out comments here on my blog). In his view a standard doesn’t make sacrifices in terms of "perfect design" instead of "perfect compatibility". The problem is that "perfect design" can mean different things depending on what the goals are for your design. We had to leave some legacy behaviors in place because the goal of our work was to create an XML format that could represent our existing base of Office documents. There is no secret motive there, it’s pretty straightforward. If we left these things out of the standard, you would have had many more people upset at that, so at some point you have to realize that you can’t always please everyone and instead you make the best decision for your customers. But, if you don’t want that format and instead want to use ODF, go for it. We are supporting a project that will allow OpenOffice customers to open and save Open XML files and Microsoft Office customers to open and save ODF files, so you can make that decision.

    Our entire point in submitting the Open XML formats to Ecma was that we were had a number of customers and governments ask us to do it. People wanted to know that the formats would be reviewed and maintained by a standards body, and that even if Microsoft goes away 100 years from now, that won’t impact the availability of the specs. It turned out to be an excellent request, as the documentation and schemas have benefitted significantly from the standardization process. Just look at how much has changed from the initial draft submitted a year ago. These weren’t just changes in the documentation, but the actual formats themselves changed significantly as well.

    I can’t tell from Rob’s question whether he is trying to be manipulative, or if he’s just not fully aware of the technical details behind the Office Open XML formats. The Open XML standard is fully documented and you can implement it on any platform, so in a way the answer to both of his questions is yes!

    Just like the ODF standard though, the Open XML standard isn’t going to tell you how to consume some other format, just the format it’s defining. So the Open XML specification wouldn’t help a 3rd party do conversions from the old Star Office format; from the Lotus 1-2-3 format; or from the Microsoft Office binary formats. I think it’s just a leading question attempting to get into a discussion around the documentation of the legacy binary formats, but that’s a different topic and shouldn’t come into play when discussing these new formats (which will be the default formats for Office 2007). It has just as much to do with the discussion as if I asked Rob and Bob if IBM has documented the Lotus file formats.

    In order to completely answer the second question, you would really have to say ‘no’ for both ODF and Open XML as well. You can’t control what an end-user is going to embed in their files. Both ODF and Open XML allow for OLE-Objects, and embedded media formats that might not always be cross platform. The Open XML format doesn’t place restrictions on what type of images you can insert for example, so if you were on a Mac and you inserted some fancy new image format that wasn’t supported on Windows yet, then the image wouldn’t show up when opened on a Windows machine. The Open XML standard does try to suggest media formats though that are cross platform (and it even points to the public specs for those image formats).

    OK, gotta go. Have a great week everyone.


  9. I’m sure by now most folks have read the news on the collaboration agreement between Novell and Microsoft. If not, you can read more up on the Microsoft interoperability site: (Novell’s press release is here ) There ar