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Office XML Document Format Tools Released

Microsoft announced this week that new tools have been released to help further extend the compatibility and interoperability of Office Open XML (OOXML) document formats used in Microsoft Office 2007.

The new tools are being developed by various open source projects. In addition, the Fraunhofer Fokus research group is working on a future "test library and validation tool" that will check document formats to see how well they comply with ISO/IEC 29500 and ECMA-376, which are OOXML-based international standards. Microsoft is a partner in the validation tool effort, which was announced in late February.

One of the open source projects releasing a new tool is Apache POI, which works to make OOXML files readable in Java-based applications. On Monday, Apache POI 3.5 beta 5 was released at the Apache POI Web site, along with a software development kit. This latest release adds "improved support" for .DOCX (Word) and .PPTX (PowerPoint) file formats, as well as "extended support" for the .XLSX (Excel) file format, according to a Microsoft announcement. Microsoft first began collaborating with the Apache POI project back in March of last year.

On Friday, MindTree and Microsoft released the Open XML Document Viewer v1.0 application. This browser plug-in, available at the CodePlex open source project site, allows Microsoft Office 2007 documents to be read in a Web browser. The Open XML Document Viewer, which translates OOXML-based files to HTML, now supports the Opera browser on both Windows and Linux. Other supported browsers include Firefox and Internet Explorer versions 7 and 8.

Microsoft and Dialogika have enhanced an Office Binary to Open XML Translator application by adding support for .XLS and .PPT files. This application lets the user translate Office binary files into OOXML and OpenDocument Format (ODF) files. The Phase III final version of the translator was released on SourceForge in late April.

Finally, the Open XML-ODF Translator add-in for Microsoft Office got some improvements with version 3.0, which was released in late March on SourceForge. Microsoft supported ODF 1.1 with this translator release.

Native support for ODF 1.1 is now part of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2, which was released in late April. However, the quality of that support has sparked an open spat among OASIS Technical Committee members who are currently overseeing the ODF international standard.

A blog entry by Rob Weir, IBM's chief ODF architect and chair of the ODF Technical Committee at OASIS, accused Microsoft of either incompetence or sabotage by not supporting an ODF namespace convention that helps translate formulas in spreadsheets between applications. In response, Gray Knowlton, a Microsoft group product manager, called for Weir to "step down as chairman." Microsoft and IBM still have some bad blood left over from a contentious ISO/IEC OOXML standardization process and both are now participants in the OASIS ODF standards effort.

Microsoft's Doug Mahugh, lead standards professional on the Office interoperability team, explained in his blog that the ODF standard doesn't specify the code-handing details for formulas sufficiently enough. He claimed that even IBM's Lotus Symphony spreadsheet has a problem translating formulas to other ODF-based spreadsheets, such as Sun's OpenOffice.org. In a later blog entry, Mahugh said that ODF document tracking changes aren't being supported in Microsoft Word's OOXML because of the complexity involved.

"Tracked changes are essential to document collaboration, and formulas are the essence of spreadsheets. Microsoft's failure to support either in SP2 is revealing with regard to its support for real-world interoperability," stated Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, an industry trade group promoting ODF, in a released statement.

The upshot of these spats, according to a Burton Group blog, is that there are still major compatibility problems between the ODF and OOXML document formats. The blog emphasized that enterprises should stick with the document formats they currently use in their office productivity software until such kinks get worked out. The blog also noted that ODF 1.2, when it's released, will likely have an Open Formula syntax that will solve the current impasse.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.

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