Big news today was that we've decided to fund an open source project to build translation tools between the new 2007 file format, OpenXML and the OpenOffice standard Open Document Format. This will enable customers to read and write to ODF from Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Both are open standards, ODF now ratified by ISO and OpenXML going through the standards mill with ECMA on its way to ISO.    

You can already go and download the first prototype from sourceforge.net which is an add in for Word 2007.

I'm not being controversial here when I say that ODF is more basic, based on OpenOffice and it was because it could not support the richness of the 2007 Office release that meant it was necessary for us to propose another standard, OpenXML. OpenXML enables the full fidelity of the 2007 release, fully describing the document in XML. It supports the digital signatures and signing of documents, routing and workflow. It is extensible too, meaning you can create your own schemas which extend those of Office and enabling further interoperability with other systems. It is more performant than ODF which we feel is too slow.

It is interesting to note the way we are doing this too. The project will be funded by Microsoft via a partner to get the first prototypes underway and these will be on Microsoft's download site, office online and on sourceforge. This is a true open source project where developers can see the code and contribute. We expect there to be other tools that people will write to assist with the interoperability. Our funding via a partner means we can ensure it will ship in a timely fashion and be properly tested whilst being developed in a totally transparent way to anyone interested.    

I see this is as further evidence that Microsoft is committed to XML, to open standards and to listening to our customers. We still think OpenXML is far richer and that ODF is a lowest common denominator. We think that most customers will want to use OpenXML to support their business and that of their customers however we know, particularly in government, that customers need to ensure they are able to interoperate with whatever may be in use, including ODF. Building these translation tools just removes a barrier for interoperability previously faced by our customers.    

Jerry Fishenden, our National Technology Officer has a good post on this. As he says, customers don't care about these turf wars and taking the heat out of it by helping to create these converters is absolutely the right thing to do.