Microsoft Details Open Document Format Support For Office

In the next few weeks, Microsoft will release similar notes for its implementation of the pre-cursor to the ISO for Open XML.
With the release of documentation Tuesday describing the company's implementation of the Open Document Format in Office 2007 Service Pack 2, Microsoft continues to deliver tangible results of a set of interoperability principles it announced in February 2008.

Microsoft unveiled a Web site that goes into great detail about how Microsoft will implement ODF in Office, describing things like how Word does text formatting, how it determines and sets margins in ODF documents, or what font weight gradations describe bold and normal text. Though Microsoft doesn't have default ODF support in Office 2007, it will add support in Office 2007 SP2 (service pack 2).

While this may seem like boring detail, the release of info is important for developers looking to understand how Microsoft works with the standard document format, so that they can develop compatible third-party add-ons or compare their implementations of the standard to Microsoft's as a reference. It's also a step that's likely to mollify some concerns that Microsoft wouldn't implement the standard to its fullest extent, or would extend it beyond recognition.

In the next few weeks, Microsoft will release similar notes for its implementation of the pre-cursor to the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) standard for Open XML in Office 2007 (ECMA 376). Microsoft will detail its ISO-standard Open XML implementation as the Office 14 release approaches.

Microsoft continues to work with standards bodies on both Open XML and ODF. Recently, the company submitted 15 issues to Oasis, the ODF standards body, where the ODF specification doesn't map well across major implementations like OpenOffice, Star Office, and Word. For example, the document that describes the ODF spec has different page counts in each of these productivity suites.

With Open XML, Microsoft and other parties are looking to develop a document test library and an open source validation program to make sure various implementations of the standard are interoperable. Microsoft would contribute funding and expertise to the document validator, which would be similar to the ACID test for Web developers working with HTML and CSS.

However, while Microsoft is active on the technical committees overseeing ODF and Open XML, it needs to be careful that it remains transparent while at the same time trying to avoid undue influence on the spec. "It's a challenge to find that sweet spot," Doug Mahugh, Microsoft's senior program manager for Office interoperability, said in an interview.

Earlier this year, competitors and Microsoft critics alleged the company improperly pressured voting parties in ISO and that Microsoft was looking to muddy the document standards waters with competing standards. Open XML was ratified by ISO nonetheless.

Mahugh says that so far, it looks like Microsoft is well on its way, clarifying that while he felt the Open XML standardization process was politicized, the technical committees are now working together from a more technical standpoint without political interference.