Microsoft to Teach Open Documents to Speak Chinese

As new open source document standards emerge, Microsoft continues to expand interoperability options for its Microsoft Office customers. Microsoft has launched an open source project with Chinese organizations to support interoperability with Microsoft Office and the Chinese UOF standard, the company announced Sunday.

Microsoft is working with Beihang University, Beijing Information Technology Institute (one of the cocreators of the UOF Chinese standard), Tsinghua University and LitSoft (a member of Lenovo Group) to create an open source translator project between China’s Unified Office Format (UOF) and the Ecma Open XML file formats.

In addition, Microsoft announced the beta release of translation tools for Windows XP, the 2003 and 2007 versions of Microsoft Office Excel, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint as part of the Open XML Translator project that was launched a year ago.

Open Source Tools

The new UOF translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software, and will be free, downloadable add-ins for Microsoft Office Word 2003 and 2007 customers from SourceForge.net, Microsoft said. A preview of the tools will hit SourceForge.net this summer, with final versions expected early next year.

The tools will most likely be used by Microsoft Office customers in China who must also work with the UOF standard document format.

“Our customers have told us their data needs can’t be addressed by a one-format or one-standard-fits-all approach,” said Jean Paoli, general manager of Interoperability and XML Architecture for Microsoft. “Everyone wants to use their data in slightly different ways. That’s why we are enabling customers to pick from whatever format they want to use with their Office documents — whether it’s ODF (OpenDocument format), Open XML, PDF, or new standards like UOF.”

Directing the Open Battle?

Clearly, much is at stake for Microsoft, which gains significant revenue from its proprietary Microsoft Office suite of applications. If the ODF format becomes a default open document standard, Microsoft could lose Microsoft Office-related revenue and see its dominance threatened.

By working with China, Microsoft can further the Open XML standard, which was created by Microsoft and has been widely criticized as too large and unwieldy to encourage easily-built applications — that is, products that could compete with Microsoft Office — based on the standard. Either way, China is a large and growing market, so working with UOF may become even more important in the future.

“At stake is nothing less than the direction of the office format direction for the next decade,” Stephen O’Grady, an analyst for RedMonk, told LinuxInsider. “Microsoft is essentially trying to preserve its grip on the format but is understanding that interoperability is a hard requirement — hence the bridges to UOF and ODF.”

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