Earlier this month, on July 5, Microsoft announced its support for an open-source project to create a translator plug-in for its Office applications that, eventually, will enable Word, Excel and PowerPoint users to read and write word processor, spreadsheet and presentation files saved in the rival OpenDocument for Office Applications format.
The key word here is "eventually." For now, as we learned in eWEEK Labs initial tests of the plug-in, the ODF translator falls short in several key areas. For starters, the .1 release of the plug-in translates from ODF word processor documents to Word 2007s OpenXML format and not vice versa.
According to the road map documentation that accompanies the projects source code, support for saving from Word 2007 to ODF is slated for October. Spreadsheet and presentation translators probably will come next year.
Whats more, rather than add ODF as a standard format option in Word—like RTF (Rich Text Format) or WordPerfect—theres a separate menu line in the file menu for ODF. Users cant configure Word to save to ODF by default, which relegates the format to a sort of second-class citizenship.
Perhaps one of the roadblocks for tighter ODF integration is the fact that Microsoft programmers arent writing any of the code. Instead, as Microsoft Shared Source Program Manager Jason Matusow put it on his blog, Microsoft is "providing architectural guidance and funding" to the developers involved.
Another limitation is that the plug-in requires Word 2007. And since it converts between ODF and OpenXML, the translator does nothing to help with the countless documents already stored in Microsoft Office binary formats.
However, Microsoft has stated that it will release updates to earlier versions of Office to enable these releases to read and write OpenXML. Once this happens, according to the plug-in developers, these earlier versions of Office will be able to use the ODF translator as well.
With all that said, we believe that Microsofts support for the ODF translator project does represent an important step in the right direction. At least the ODF translator is available for testing right now, which is more than we can say for the ODF plug-in that the OpenDocument Foundation announced in May—the code for which weve seen neither hide nor hair.
Its certainly going too far to call Microsofts currently lukewarm support for ODF a change of heart, but it is nonetheless an encouraging instance of Microsoft listening to its customers. We call on Microsoft to make way for ODF in the standard supported-file-formats list—giving it at least the same stature as the formats of the suites once-fierce rivals.
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eWeeks Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Jeffrey Burt, Larry Dignan, Stan Gibson, Scot Petersen and Lisa Vaas.