Sun to Provide ODF Plug-In for Microsoft Office

Sun Microsystems is releasing, a plug-in for Microsoft Office 2003 that will provide a translation between the file format and OpenDocument Format (ODF) for Office Applications, according to the company.

The early access version of the ODF plug-in allows for the seamless two-way conversion of Microsoft Office documents to ODF for people who use computers with assistive technologies to access documents.

For now, it is only available for use with MS Office 2003.

New Format

The StarOffice 8 Conversion Technology Preview is based on the open source office productivity suite developed by the OpenOffice.org community. The ODF is a standard XML-based format adopted by several private companies and government organizations. The format is considered a rival to Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) format.

“We’ve done what Microsoft could and should have done in the first place,” Erwin Tenhumberg, product marketing manager for OpenOffice.org within the Client Systems Group at Sun Microsystems, told LinuxInsider. “We’ve used freely available open source code to build seamless, intuitive support for ODF into MS Word.”

The plug-in converter lacks any redundant menu items and the workflow is designed to make users of ODF not feel like “second class,” according to Tenhumberg.

Instead, it is “just peer support for the industry-standard file format, using open source rather than building from scratch so the improvements that are made to OpenOffice.org lead to improvements in the plug in,” Simon Phipps, chief open source officer at Sun Microsystems wrote on his corporate blog.

There is no prerequisite for the OOXML add-in to make it work.

Seamless Support

The new plug-in also allows people already using Microsoft Office to switch between Word (.doc) documents and OpenOffice Writer (.odt) documents with minimal additional memory added to the file, according to the company.

This means that users of accessibility devices don’t have to be left behind by migrations to ODF. “People with those expensive aids are trapped on Office 2003 since the devices use reverse-engineered closed APIs (application program interfaces),” Phipps said.

By adding seamless ODF support, they are able to be full peers in a working environment that is moving to OpenDocument.

Microsoft Also in Play

Microsoft recently released its own ODF document translator for Word, and announced plans to eventually include translation of spreadsheets and presentation documents.

However, Sun claims it has built a better interface with Microsoft Word (.doc/.odt) which, unlike the “plug-in” that Microsoft sponsors, simply adds OpenDocument as a supported file type to all the normal Word menus and dialogs so that users can open and save ODF seamlessly and easily.

The preview includes just that interface to the library; the version in April will include the equivalent support for Excel and PowerPoint, according to the company.

Adoption of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Standard OpenDocument Format has grown significantly in the past year, as more governments and businesses have migrated to the standard. The plug-in is expected to simplify and further accelerate implementation of ODF by allowing users to standardize their work flows on ODF.

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