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MA Asks: Can Anybody Out There Make MS Office Interoperate with ODF?
Wednesday, May 03 2006 @ 07:31 PM EDT

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has posted a Request for Information regarding Open Document Format plug-ins for Microsoft Office. Here's what they are looking for, information on any existing or in-development plug-ins or converters that can allow Microsoft Office to open, display and save to ODF and also allow translation of documents between Microsoft's binary (.doc, .xls, .ppt) or XML formats and ODF.

Thus, Microsoft is being publicly shamed, and maybe now they'll decide to bother to write such a plug-in. The thing is, Microsoft is the only one who knows all the details of their super secret interoperability information, unless somebody's been doing it the slow, hard way Andrew Tridgell told the EU Commission about last week at the hearings. If you have, the Commonwealth would like to hear from you.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, they just told the EU Commission they have trouble documenting their code. They might need to hire some more retired old geezers who still remember what's in their code. Or maybe contact some dudes with some l33t skills. Or they could admit they should just do this, or at least reveal the necessary information the community needs to figure out how to interoperate freely, and then the community will gladly write it in two shakes of a lamb's tail. The bottleneck is Microsoft. Here's the Commonwealth's request:

Description: The Commonwealth seeks information pertaining to the existence or development of a "plug-in component" or other converter options to be used with Microsoft Office that would allow Microsoft Office to easily open, render, and save to ODF files, and also allow translation of documents between Microsoft's binary (.doc, .xls, .ppt) or XML formats and ODF. Respondents responding to this proposal need not be on state contract.

The RFI is posted on the Commonwealth’s procurement website at www.comm-pass.com. In the middle of the page, click on “Search for solicitations”, enter “ODF” in Keyword box, and view the open solicitation (RFI 06-1). Click on the “Intent” tab to access the RFI document.

By the way, ECMA now has the first draft of Microsoft's Office Open XML specification, all 1900 pages, listed as Creation of the Ecma XML document format standard, first draft as a zip file, along with a PowerPoint presentation, as PDF. I notice on page 7 of the PowerPoint, titled "XML Strategy, Built - by design - for interoperability," it says the strategy is to "remove barriers to enable data interoperability, e.g. across Documents & Servers," with a little picture of a penguin sitting next to the Unix logo, so they do seem to be representing that they would like to interoperate documents with Linux. No? You cynics think they are just a prize bunch of hypocrites? Well, let's watch what happens next.

If they mean it, they will write the plug-in or provide the necessary information so it can be done by others. If they don't, then I think it's plainly evident to the world, including Massachusetts, that interoperatibility is not their goal.

On page 15 there is a tip of the hat to the EU Commission, and on page 16, they list their Office Open XML co-sponsors, and I note 6 of the 10 are not currently members of Ecma. Apple is on the list so perhaps they could write the ODF plug-in? No? Then on page 17, they give reasons why the world should standardize on Office Open XML, and one bullet point says, "Microsoft providing royalty free access to MS IP necessary to implement Office Open XML." OK. Thanks. But how about doing the same for ODF, so we don't get the impression Microsoft is more interested in locking us in to their XML rather than in making true interoperability possible?

UPDATE:

Peter Korn, the accessibility guy at Sun, mentions on his blog what it all means for the disabled if we have a plug-in:

The goal of this RFI is to explore the possibility of an MS-Office plug-in or other convert to allow folks to keep using MS-Office but nontheless read and write ODF. This would address the immediate problem of any gaps in functionality that Windows Assistive Technologies have when used with ODF applications like StarOffice, OpenOffice.org, and IBM Workplace as compared to MS-Office.

And I am so pleased to read there that the Bay State Council of the Blind is on the OASIS ODF Accessibility subcommittee now:

Since the ODF Accessibility presentation at CSUN last March, there have been a few notable developments worth sharing.

First, the OASIS ODF Accessibility subcommittee is nearing completion of their Open Document file format accessibility audit. The subcommittee membership includes Sun Microsystems and IBM, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Bay State Council of the Blind, Design Science and the OpenDocument Foundation, and several unaffiliated individuals with deep expertise in accessibility (and about one third of the subcommitte themselves have either physical or visual diabilities). They plan to finish the audit at a meeting hosted by the Royal National Institute for the Blind later in this month. The output will comprise a set of specific, recommended improvements to the ODF specification which we hope to see incorporated in a "1.1" version of the spec. later this year.

Looks like this story is going to have a happy ending.


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