Sun Microsystems will release a preview version of its OpenDocument Format plug-in that facilitates two-way conversion of Microsoft Word documents to ODF later in February, with the final release expected in April.
The technology, known as the StarOffice 8 Conversion Technology Preview plug-in application for Microsoft Office 2003, will be made available as a free download.
This announcement comes less than a week after Microsoft and its partners finished work on the Open XML Translator,which is an add-on to Microsoft Word and available for download and use 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 Sun announcement also comes hot on the heels of news that Microsofts goal of getting governments across the globe to embrace its Office Open XML format has hit roadblocks in both the United States and abroad.
In the United States, legislation was introduced in Texas and Minnesota the week of Feb. 5 to mandate the adoption of open document formats that will essentially preserve all documents in an open, XML-based file format that is interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications.
Some 19 countries have submitted "contradictions" to the bid to get fast-track approval of the Office Open XML standard by the International Standards Organization.
Like Microsofts Translator, Suns converter will initially just work with text documents, though both the Microsoft and Sun development teams are working on modules for spreadsheets and presentations. Sun expects to offer full support for spreadsheet and presentation documents in April.
The Executive Department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently using the StarOffice converter to meet the compliance date for the start of a phased migration to the ODF format.
"Organizations can now consider switching to the OpenDocument Format while protecting employees needing assistive devices only supported by legacy Microsoft software. ODF is important because it ensures documents will still be readable long into the future, while allowing a wide choice of proprietary and open-source software to work with the documents," said Rich Green, Suns executive vice president of software.
Andy Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP and the editor of the ConsortiumInfo.org standards blog, said the existence of two plug-ins will bring a new dynamic into the competition between Office Open XML and ODF-based products.
Existing Office users will be able to stay with their existing version of Office and choose whichever plug-in they like best, or upgrade to either Office 2007 or to one of the many ODF-based proprietary and open-source offerings, he said.
"In an ironic twist, training staff to convert from an existing version of Office to an ODF-compliant product, such as OpenOffice or StarOffice, might require less training, and related costs, than an upgrade to Office 2007," he said.
"Thats due to the similarity between many ODF products and the current version of Office, in contrast to the dramatic differences that exist between Office 2007 and its predecessors," Updegrove said.
Marino Marcich, the managing director of the ODF Alliance, a group that promotes and advances the use of ODF as the primary document format for governments, said the plug-in would allow users to standardize their work flows on ODF and choose between multiple implementations and suppliers going forward.