TECH BRIEF

Microsoft releases Office Open XML document-formatting tools

Various open-source projects have developed the new tools

Microsoft has released new tools to further extend the compatibility and interoperability of Office Open XML (OOXML) document formats used in Microsoft Office 2007.

Various open-source projects have developed the new tools. In addition, the Fraunhofer Fokus research group is working on a 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 international OOXML-based standards. Microsoft is a partner in the validation tool effort, which was announced in late February.

Apache POI Project is one of the open-source groups releasing a new tool. The group makes OOXML files readable in Java-based applications. Apache POI 3.5 beta 5 and software development kit were released May 18 at the Apache POI Web site. The latest release has improved support for .docx (Word) and .pptx (PowerPoint) file formats and extended support for the .xlsx (Excel) file format, according to a Microsoft announcement. The company began collaborating with the Apache POI Project in March 2008.

On May 15, MindTree and Microsoft released Open XML Document Viewer Version 1.0. This browser plug-in, available at the CodePlex open-source project site, allows users to read Microsoft Office 2007 documents in a Web browser. The viewer, which translates OOXML-based files to HTML, now supports the Opera browser on Windows and Linux. Other supported browsers include Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 and 8.

Microsoft and Dialogika have enhanced an Office Binary to Open XML Translator by adding support for .xls and .ppt files. The application lets users translate Office binary files into OOXML and OpenDocument Format (ODF) files. The final version of the translator was released at SourceForge.net 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 at SourceForge.net. Microsoft supported ODF 1.1 with the 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 a spat among OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee members, who are overseeing the international ODF standard.

A blog entry by Rob Weir, IBM's chief ODF architect and chairman of the ODF Technical Committee at OASIS, accused Microsoft of incompetence or sabotage by not supporting an ODF namespace convention that helps translate formulas in spreadsheets applications. In response, Gray Knowlton, a group product manager at Microsoft, called for Weir to step down as chairman of the committee. 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.

Doug Mahugh, lead standards professional on the Office interoperability team at Microsoft, explained in his blog that the ODF standard doesn't sufficiently specify the code-handling details for formulas. 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 ODF document-tracking changes aren't 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," said Marino Marcich, managing director of industry trade group ODF Alliance, in a statement. “Microsoft's failure to support either in [Service Pack 2] is revealing with regard to its support for real-world interoperability.”

According to a Burton Group blog, those spats show that there are still major compatibility problems between the ODF and OOXML document formats. The blog said enterprises should stick with the document formats they currently use for their office productivity software until such kinks get worked out. The blog also noted that ODF 1.2, when released, will likely have an OpenFormula syntax that will resolve the current impasse.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is the online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group sites, including Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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