Microsoft-led Forum Yields Tools for OOXML Interoperability

A German organization plans to build a tool to help developers test whether software they're developing can support documents compatible with the latest version of the Open Office XML (OOXML) standard.

In an interoperability meeting hosted by Microsoft in London Monday, Fraunhofer FOKUS, a German research institute, said it would develop a document test library and a validation tool that will help developers verify if software they're building is conformant to the standard, said Doug Mahugh, the lead standards professional for the Microsoft Office Interoperability team.

"If they want to generate a document [in the software] they will have some way of verifying that the document would support ISO29500," he said. ISO29500 is the current version of OOXML that has been approved by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) as an international document format.

Fraunhofer FOKUS discussed how they plan to develop the tool and how vendors and interested parties can participate in the project at the meeting, but did not give a time frame for when the software would be available, according to Microsoft.

An update this year adds support for ECMA-376, an earlier version of OOXML standard, to Office 2007, but Microsoft won't support the ISO29500 specification until it releases its forthcoming Office 2010 technology. Office 2007 is the software that set off the controversy over document formats when Microsoft developed OOXML as its own XML-based file format for the suite.

In addition to OOXML, Open Document Format (ODF) is another ISO-approved global technology standard for documents; it was approved before OOXML. In fact, Microsoft's decision to create OOXML and then submit it as a standard rather than support ODF was extremely controversial. The ISO eventually made OOXML an international standard in April 2008 after a long, contentious approval process.

Microsoft did not add native support in Office 2007 for ODF; however, the same update to the software released earlier this year that added support to Office for ECMA-376 also added support for ODF.

Document interoperability is an ongoing problem and is leading governments across the world to standardize on one XML-based document format to streamline document exchange.

Microsoft launched what it calls the Document Interoperability Initiative (DII) last March as a way to bring global industry leaders and vendors together to identify, test and develop tools to overcome document-interoperability barriers. Monday's meeting, which also produced updates to other tools to foster interoperability, is one of a series of DII meetings that have been hosted since last year.

An Opera browser plug-in for Open XML Document Viewer v1.0 was released at the meeting; the tool provides direct translation for Open XML documents (.DOCX) to HTML, enabling access to Open XML documents from any platform with a Web browser, including mobile devices. The document-viewing software already includes a plug-in for Firefox, Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8.

Microsoft and the other participants in Monday's forum also made available a beta of Apache POI 3.5, a Java API (application programming interface) to access information in the Open XML Format.

They also unveiled improvements to the Open XML-ODF Translator, which improves interoperability between the ODF and the Open XML formats. Users of Office 2003 and XP users who want to edit ODF documents continue to depend on this translator technology to do so. The translator also can be used with Novell OpenOffice to add read, edit and write support for Open XML documents.

Microsoft is planning DII document interoperability events for the coming months in Beijing and Berlin.

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