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Microsoft to Support ODF via Plug-In 269

Apache4857 writes "It appears that Microsoft has finally caved. BetaNews is reporting that Microsoft is sponsoring an open source project to enable conversion between Open XML in Office 2007 and OpenDocument formats. The project, hosted on, made its initial release today. The Word 2007 conversion utility is expected to ship ship by the end of 2006, and similarly conversion utilities for Excel and PowerPoint are expected early next year." See the announcement in Brian Jones' blog (Jones is the Microsoft program manager responsible for Office file formats).
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Microsoft to Support ODF via Plug-In

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  • Embrace and Extend (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:12AM (#15666372) Journal
    I bet it will be just as useful as PNG alpha channel in MSIE.
  • Excellent news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Saunalainen ( 627977 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:14AM (#15666385)
    Now governments can mandate all documents be in ODF format without being accused of abandoning their disabled constituency, and Microsoft will have to compete on its features and performance rather than vendor lock-in.
  • by Tribbin ( 565963 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:15AM (#15666395) Homepage
    Microsoft is _sponsoring_ the development in open source.

    Not exactly the same.

    I for once have faith in what they are gonna do.

    They might just hear people and governments saying 'we don't take it anymore'.
  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:17AM (#15666403)
    Microsoft notes that OpenDocument still has gaps that are being worked out by OASIS, such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options. Citing Open XML's accessibility features for disabled workers, file performance and support for integrating external XML data, Microsoft says ODF "focuses on more limited requirements."
    "Accessibility options" and "disabled workers".

    That's not the responsibility of the file format.

    That's the responsibility of the app used to read/write that file format.

    And with an Open standard for file formats, there's no reason that anyone could not write an app that did direct file-to-speech with no need for a visual display (as is currently the case).
  • by moochfish ( 822730 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:17AM (#15666405)
    Well, at least the project is open source so other developers can take it and run with it. This version is not what the PR people would like you to believe. Check out this doozy of a quote from the sourceforge forum:

    "With the first release (0.1 - prototype), you can only convert documents from ODF to OpenXML. This can be done either with the Word Add-in (which requires both .NET Framewok 2.0 and Word 2007) or through the command line tool, which only requires .NET framework 2.0. "

    ( 531122&forum_id=579283 [] )
  • Re:Excellent news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Krynus ( 14625 ) <> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:25AM (#15666458) Homepage
    Unfortunately, that's not how it works in reality. Governments *might* mandate documents be in an open format, which Microsoft is (We made it XML! That's open, duh!). Nothing changes except it's slightly-less of a pain in the arse to deal with office documents now.

    Everyone here needs understand: everything Microsoft does is about making more money. That's their responsibility to their stockholders. They have no reason whatsoever to expend above and beyond the baseline compatibility requirements.

    I can assure you they won't care of ODF documents don't work quite right in Sharepoint.
  • by DesertWolf0132 ( 718296 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:26AM (#15666464) Homepage
    So when does the conversion utility for versions of Office people actually have come out? I have yet to find anyone who already owns a version of Office that is looking to upgrade. There are no features in the newest versions worth the pricetag. They claim OpenXML is THE reason to upgrade but with Open Document being availible without the insane pricetag there has been no real reason to upgrade. I still run 2003 on my work systems (only because the retards here already had it when I was hired and no one wants to try and I would LOVE to convert all of our documents so when I finally make the switch on everyone to OO it will be that much easier. Once more governments move to Open Document standards getting OO adopted here will be a snap.
  • Caved? Hardly! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:28AM (#15666473) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft has not caved as TFA says. Now they can compete in new markets where they were being gradually squeezed out. Now organizations can say that they support open standards while still using Microsoft Office. I am sure that they will do a half-hearted job of supporting ODF, and people will grow frustrated with how "limited" it is compared to the native XML file type. They will not realize that only Microsoft's implementation is limited. As a result they might start using the latter for things that are saved locally, undermining ODF efforts.
  • by GIL_Dude ( 850471 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:31AM (#15666491) Homepage
    "There will be a menu item in the Office applications that will point people to the downloads for XPS, PDF, and now ODF" Looks like it won't be too hard to get if there is a menu item for it. People who want it can find it. And for the folks that are really asking for it (government, etc.) they can just put it in their image or their distribution of the Office install to make sure it is there.
  • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:34AM (#15666507) Journal
    They can just create enough caveats and special properties in the -internal- Office document structure that export to ODF will simply break the documents, or require painstakingly cautious convertion to some primitives. PNG IS supported in MSIE 6.0 fully, including alpha channel, but the implementation is so much pain in the neck for developers to implement in webpages, that they simply don't bother. (you need to create a style sheet including MSIE's 'filter' CSS extensions, and apply an 'alpha' filter to the image.)

    Same can happen here - want to save ODF? Here's the microsoft way:

    Pick "plugins" menu.
    Open "plugin manager".
    Open "active plugins tab".
    Check checkbox by "ODF exporter plugin".
    Click OK.
    pick "export" menu.
    click "export to plugin".
    Are you sure you want to export the document to a plugin? Some document properties may be lost in the process." Click yes.
    "Plugin export wizard".
    "List of available plugins". Click ODF exporter.
    Click next.
    "What would you like to do with the file after export? Save to file, Send by Mail, Copy to Clipboard, Paste as new document" Pick "Save to file". Click Next.
    "Where would you like to have the file saved?" - file selector. Pick file destination.
    "Warning! Plugins contain 3rd party software which may append viruses and malware to your documents! Are you sure to proceed?" Click yes.
    "The chosen plugin is covered by the following license:" (textarea - GNU). Do you agree? Pick "yes", click Next.
    "MS Office is ready to export your document to a plugin. Click Finish to begin the export process." Click Finish.
    A progressbar appears while the open source plugin actually processes the file. A moment later a requester "You have successfuly exported the document to a plugin. Click OK to return to MS Office."

    Loading ODF document could look very similar.
  • by cnettel ( 836611 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:40AM (#15666534)
    Not necessarily. For example, PostScript is a very bad format for distributing documents that are to be consumed in any other way than as a graphical document. A naively created PDF can be quite bad, a properly annotated one not so bad. HOW you represent the data is relevant. I would imagine that most formats that are suitable for further editing in a structured manner should be quite good from an accessibility standpoint as well, but you can certainly choose to code things like text flow in a manner that makes a good UI, but where the semantics are lost. The app can only present and persist what's allowed in the format.

    DISCLAIMER: This is general obvious facts. I don't recommend the current or future MS Office XML formats as any example of how things should be done.

  • Taking bets... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dbarclay10 ( 70443 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:41AM (#15666538)
    Okay, I'm taking bets on them doing this as part of a typical "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Extort" cycle. I give 2:1 odds on Microsoft producing ODF documents that just don't work right, or are horribly buggy. The import will lose all sorts of formatting and similar such things.

    Anybody? :)
  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @09:43AM (#15666555) Homepage Journal
    Several reasons:
    1. Microsoft has finally realized it cannot fight against the Linux trend. Even if Linux is not ready for the desktop -- which is debatable -- free [beer|speech] software is now good enough to replace at least part of Windows and/or Office on the desktop.
    2. Microsoft now openly acknowledges -- through this decision -- that they don't control the market, but that they are forced to bow to the pressure of their clients. This is pretty much unprecedented, as Microsoft, through FUD and VaporWare, used to control its clients, and not the other way around.

    All in all, this is very good news for Open Source, and a chink in the mighty Microsoft FUD machine...
  • Re:Taking bets... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amliebsch ( 724858 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:03AM (#15666669) Journal
    Well, since the project is BSD licensed, what's to stop you from fixing it?
  • by Werrismys ( 764601 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:05AM (#15666688)
    We need this plugin for Office 2000, XP etc too. No-one is going to upgrade to 2007's DRM hell to read ODF.
  • by zootm ( 850416 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:10AM (#15666719)

    As much fun as comparing chalk to cheese is, some people prefer an equation editor where one does not have to learn a text syntax to use it, and some people prefer the efficiency of writing out in that text format. Parading one as "superior" to the other is an exercise in futility.

    If you can do both in OOo (although I have OOo, I've never used the equation editor, preferring LaTeX, so I've no idea), that's a pretty neat feature. It's not a particularly huge one though, and not one which is particularly good for comparing the packages in general.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:16AM (#15666756) Homepage
    but what they are actually are going to do is create a broken implementation of ODF and then point and say: see see see, while some OSS developer is going to create another plugin that does it all perfectly but breaks with every Office update. They are going to be sued for some pennies for not opening up their documentation and maintaining their monopoly. We've seen it over and over again with HTML, Java, Novell and it's going to happen again.

    BTW: their current conversion tool doesn't work for certain features (manual page break) which is NOT a compatibility issue. It's obviously broken by design.

    I for one am not impressed and do NOT welcome our ODF-importing overlords.
  • Give them a break. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orasio ( 188021 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:17AM (#15666767) Homepage
    MSOffice97 was good enough for you when you bought it.
    If your needs have changed it's only ok that you get a new version.

    Of course, you could use OpenOffice 2.0, that works great indeed with MSOffice97 documents, and writes ODF natively.

  • by PinkyDead ( 862370 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @10:26AM (#15666822) Journal
    It certainly sounds right - but I don't think that's the way it will pan out.

    The whole ODF pressure that MS is experiencing is coming from Government level initiatives to avoid proprietary formats. Your average Government worker will be trained in this and follow the procedure in a totally mindless fashion.

    (1) Public bodies will think nothing of spending millions to test the ODF plug-ins and if Microsoft's offering doesn't match precisely the requirements it will get the boot - Microsoft money or not. Sneaky tricks like this might work for the insignificant individual with one PC and no voice - but when you have all the time in the world and a seemingly unlimited budget, no one is going to put their head on the block and sign off on something that doesn't work.
    (2) The powers-that-be will want to know why a process has been established that requires complex decisions to be made at lower levels (append virus yes or no?), and why the process is so complex in the first place when cheaper options that comply fully with the original requirements are available.

    Time will tell.
  • by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:12AM (#15667184) Homepage

    NG IS supported in MSIE 6.0 fully, including alpha channel, but the implementation is so much pain in the neck for developers to implement in webpages, that they simply don't bother.

    That's a workaround for the fact that IE does *not* fully support PNG. Not to be confused with fully supporting PNG...

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @11:18AM (#15667218) Homepage Journal
    As if.

    MS has probably realized that the usual embrace, extend, extinguish will work better than flat out refusal. Let's see:

    Scenario A: MS refuses to do ODF
    Since ODF is making inroads in many places, and is being written into laws in others, flat out refusal will mean either someone else writes a plugin (oops, already happened) or people switch to OpenOffice. Also, it'll mean that Office XML is dead, dead, dead because everyone interested in XML office documents will use ODF while those interested in MS Office will stay with legacy formats.

    Scenario B: MS does an Office plugin
    If MS "supports" ODF, then everyone used to Word will stay with Word instead of switching to OpenOffice. Also, lots and lots of these people will use Office XML as their document format and only convert to ODF when necessary, a process MS can greatly enhance by making sure that their ODF implementation is just slightly less convenient than their Office XML implementation.
    Then, a couple years down the road, they'll add some killer feature that they only implement into Office XML and not their ODF version. Or they extend ODF the way they tried with Kerberos.

    "caved in". Pfft.
  • by Spaceman40 ( 565797 ) <`blinks' `at' `'> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:00PM (#15667523) Homepage Journal
    A couple things: You can do both in OOo, but you can also do both in MS Office.

    The problem is that while they both have the functionality, the keyboard interface is better in OOo and the GUI interface is better in MS Office. Given the choice between the two, OOo is better if you're writing a paper with a lot of equations, and MS Office is better if you need the occasional math formatting.

    Of course, LaTeX is better for any real writing that has to be done, but everyone forgets about that :)
  • by fmoliveira ( 979051 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:32PM (#15667787)

    You forgot the 3rd world, your insensitive clod!

    People generally buy their computers in 24 monthly payments here, this without office. Office alone cost more than our minimal montly wage.

  • by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:58PM (#15668032) Homepage Journal
    Because Microsoft won't ship it with Office. That's the whole point: In order to obtain ODF compatibility, you'll have to do something extra in order to get it to work.

    People are lazy, and Microsoft knows that; 90% of people will just request that documents be sent in .doc so they won't have to bother.
  • Complete BS (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:29PM (#15668379)
    And just one final note - OfficeXML is NOT OPEN. The spec doesn't explain the parts that contain binary data - data that could include vital formating information for example.

    I call it bullshit. And challenge you to point out what vital formating information of the OpenXML is binary or undocumented.

    OpenXML is as open as ODF. The rest is FUD.
  • Re:Taking bets... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:42PM (#15668521)
    Well, since the project is BSD licensed, what's to stop you from fixing it?

    And what would be the purpose of doing that? You know darn well that ODF format/structures will not be translated to the same proprietary format/structures of MSopen XML.

    This 'plug-in' is only going go convert from ODF to MSopen XML initially and supposedly, it'll eventually go the other way. If you'd like to convert your existing proprietary formatted MS-word document formats then you'll have to move them to MSopen XML first and THEN to ODF. And if you want MSopen XML then you'll have to get a future version of MS Office( 2007 ) and it's likely you'll also need another version of Microsoft Windows to run that, and you'll probably need a new computer to run that.

    So good luck trying to fix any of this without reverse engineering Microsofts patented structures, purchasing all that new software, and hardware to do this and still be doing this with possible legal threats from MSFT. And then, you'd be doing this when the whole purpose of this Microsoft plugin is not to provide something that'll be useful but instead, to provide something to show how bad ODF is.

    Good luck with THAT.


  • This comment makes a good point about how data formats and editors manage semantics, presentation, and accessibility. As an earlier comment said, accessibility functions don't belong in the file format itself. However, the "openness" of a format has nothing to do with how easy it is to write accessible applications based on it. File formats (and editing techniques) that concentrate more on structure and semantics rather than only presentation are better suited to accessibility. But even if the format is well designed, uneducated users and WYSIWYG interfaces make it difficult to write documents correctly. Modern HTML and LaTeX (to an extent) make it easier but the user is always the biggest factor.

    Postscript is an open standard, and a very powerful language, but almost useless for editing or alternate display methods. PS documents are made of low level graphics instructions that are well suited to printers and on screen display, but not text-to-speech. Printers don't have to handle semantic information, so the language doesn't need any way to represent it.

    HTML has had a particularly ugly history of going back and forth between emphasizing (in the specification but more importantly in popular use) semantic and presentation markup. In the early days, before graphical web browsers, there was no underlining, images, or yellow 24 point Comic Sans. Web pages were made of headings, emphasized passages, citations, lists and so on. Then in the mid 90s, when everyone had Netscape and a color monitor, authors started experimenting with adding more interesting presentation markup. Unfortunately, the language lacked an easy way to balance semantics and presentation, so web pages stopped telling you what they meant and only what they looked like. CSS solved a lot of the problems (or rather gave people the tools to solve them) but many took the easy way out and used old-style markup or a mix of CSS and table/font/etc elements, so the Internet is riddled with horribly inaccessible websites (not to say that there aren't people who know what they're doing and who will refuse to publish a site that doesn't pass W3C's markup/stylesheet validators).

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!