In spite of ongoing criticism for not being committed enough to open standards and specifications, Microsoft and its partners have finished work on the Open XML Translator.
The open-source Translator, which is an add-on to Microsoft Word, will be available for download and use starting Feb. 2 at no cost.
Microsoft first announced last July that it had set up the Translator project on SourceForge so as to create a series of tools that allow translation between the Open Document Format and its Open XML file format, the source code for which would be made available under the BSD license.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software company also plans to announce the second phase of the project on Feb. 2, which includes developing translators for Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations.
These moves come even though Microsoft faces ongoing criticism from competitors and the ODF Alliance, an advocacy group of vendors, academic groups and technical organizations in more than 40 countries.
Marino Marcich, the Alliances managing director, previously told eWEEK that the Translator is only a "first baby step" as the installable software plug-ins created under the project are "really only a bridge, a stopgap measure that will probably not be acceptable to governments around the world over the long term. Plug-ins simply dont give the benefits of open file formats and standards."
Microsoft also faces scrutiny over claims by a group of competitors who say the company is perpetuating practices found illegal in the European Union nearly three years ago and that the Open XML platform file format is designed to run seamlessly only on the Microsoft Office platform.
Jean Paoli, the general manager for interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft, told eWEEK in an interview that the reality was that Office users could now download and install the Translator and then open and save ODF files.
"We are also going to do the same thing for Excel and PowerPoint. Thats the reality here. The technology is so good that Novell is going to use it in their version of OpenOffice. At the end of the day thats called interoperability between two office suites," he said.
Jason Matusow, Microsofts director of corporate standards, also told eWEEK that one of the design goals of the Translator was to make it independent of Microsofts technology. That would allow ISVs to include the Translator in their solutions for customers.
"The market demand is truly for interoperability and choice, and that is what this does. There have been a string of demands for us to take specific actions, and we have taken those on an ongoing basis," he said.
Some European customers like Michele Balbi, the president of Italian system integrator Teorema Engineering Group, agree. "The translator project is the kind of support customers expect and deserve. It allows a company like ours to integrate solutions more easily with the interoperability requirements of those of our customers that have an international presence and responsibility."
The Translator supports Office 2007, Office XP and Office 2003, while previous versions are already supported by Microsoft add-ons that enable reading of, and writing to, the Open XML Format, Paoli said, noting that a tool also exists for users to bulk update their older documents.
Asked by eWEEK if there were any older documents that could not be saved in the format, Paoli said he was not aware of any, noting that when plugged into Microsoft Word, the Translator gives customers the option of opening and saving documents in the ODF rather than the native Open XML file format.
The Translator, which is available in English but also localized in French, Dutch, German and Polish, may also be plugged into competing word processing programs that use ODF as the default format to open and save documents in Open XML, he said.