Microsoft agrees to open format converter

Following pressure from government leaders, Microsoft has decided to make its Microsoft Office products interoperable with the open document format (ODF).

On Wednesday, the software-maker announced that it is making available 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 publications that is based on Extensible Markup Language.

The ODF format, identified by file extension .odf, is an alternative to proprietary formats like Microsoft's Word .doc file format, the Excel .xls spreadsheet file format and the PowerPoint .ppt presentation file format.

ODF was conceived as a means of saving government records so that they can be read in the future by any application, regardless of the software that created the original document.

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

Microsoft's new release may help state employees comply with a recent Mass. mandate that all Executive Department agencies implement open document formats by 2007.

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

Mass. leaders now seem satisfied with Microsoft's solution.

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

The Microsoft Office translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software, according to company officials.

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

Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft, stated, 'By enabling this translator, we will make both choice and interoperability a more practical option for our customers. 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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