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Open source standard and new plug-in present problems for Microsoft Office

ISO certification for OpenDocument Format and a new plug-in has turned up the heat on Microsoft Office. Supporters of open standards see the events as more fodder to attract MS users.

Microsoft was hit with a one-two punch that could make it easier than ever for Office suite users to make the jump to open source.

The first blow to Office was delivered in March when the OpenDocument Format Alliance, a consortium of 150 vendors, academic institutions and government agencies, formed to promote the group's publicly accessible namesake and get it ratified by the International Organization for Standardization.

OpenDocument Format , or ODF, is an open document file format for saving and exchanging editable office documents such as text documents, spreadsheets, databases and presentations. It was developed by the OASIS industry consortium and based upon the XML-based file format originally created by ODF can be implemented by any user without restriction.

ISO ratification of ODF occurred on May 3 and was heralded by supporters who wish to increase its popularity against Office, seen as bogged down with licensing costs.

The news prompted a response issued from Microsoft Director of Standards Affairs Jason Matusow. "The ODF format is limited to the features and performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy most of our Microsoft Office customers today," he said.

No sooner had the ink dried on the ISO news release than the ODF Foundation -- a separate entity from the ODF Alliance – made available a special plug-in that would allow Microsoft Office to easily open, render and save to ODF files. The plug-in is also said to allow translation of documents between Microsoft's binary, including those with .doc, .xls, .ppt extensions -- or XML formats and ODF.

More on OpenDocument:

OpenDocument Alliance ranks surge, favorable ISO vote imminent

OpenDocument Alliance to fight looming 'Digital Dark Age'

The plug-in was a direct result of a request for information issued by a Massachusetts state agency regarding ODF plug-ins for Microsoft Office. The filing stated an interest in information on any existing or in-development plug-ins or converters that allow Microsoft Office to open, display and save to ODF and also allow translation of documents between Microsoft's binary or XML formats and ODF.

Matusow pledged that Microsoft would support interoperability with ODF documents as they start to appear and that the software maker would not oppose its standardization or use by any organization. "The richness of competitive choices in the market is good for our customers and for the industry as a whole," he said.

The significance of these recent events, however, may make render any spin from Microsoft irrelevant. The adoption of ODF by ISO will now allow software that implements the standard to become more attractive to government purchasers for whom global adoption by ISO/IEC is either desirable or required, said Andrew Updegrove, an attorney with the law firm Gesmer Updegrove and an open source devotee.

Updegrove, who has catalogued all of the ODF announcements on his blog,, added that open source office productivity suites like OpenOffice and KOffice should see a boost in appeal and usage. Other versions, like Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice, should also see increased interest from users looking to dump Microsoft Office, he said.

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