Microsoft has finally conceded support for the OpenDocument Format in its Office products. This Thursday, the company will release a sponsored piece of software on SourceForge.net called the Open XML Translator, which will convert documents between Microsoft's own Open XML format and the OpenDocument Foundation's OpenDocument Format (ODF).
The plug-in will allow users to open and save documents in the ODF format, and as an added bonus it will work with older versions of Microsoft Office, not just the new 2007 version. Being developed by a French partner company called Clever Age, Microsoft's goal is to have the plug-in available by the end of this year, and have it working with Excel and PowerPoint at some point in 2007. What made Microsoft decide that ODF support was important? Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards, Tom Robertson, has the answer.
"We're hearing that (customers) don't want homogeneity–they want diversity; they want translatability. And some customers are saying they would like us to focus on this to a certain extent, to make sure the product is high quality."
Although everything sounds peachy, one major catch is that some Office features won't be available when users choose to save a document with the ODF setting. This is mainly because of the difference in formats between ODF and Open XML. Nevertheless, this development is a major step for Microsoft in the world of Free and Open Source Software, especially since the company has chosen to use SourceForge rather than its own CodePlex site to host the plug-in.
Once the Open XML Translator plug-in is finalized at the end of the year, it will be interesting to see how it stacks up next to the ODF Plugin developed by the OpenDocument Foundation Inc. In any case, Microsoft has finally realized that ODF is growing in popularity and that the safest bet is to support both Open XML and ODF. It's all about choice, right? My question to you is whether you like having the two different formats, or would you rather see Microsoft work closely with the OpenDocument Foundation in order to come up with one ruling format for the future?