OpenDocument Plug-In Ready For Microsoft Office

Massachusetts plans to use the plug-in to ease its mandatory transition from Microsoft Office to the OpenDocument Format. The plug-in is from the OpenDocument Foundation, not Microsoft.
The OpenDocument Foundation Inc. on Friday said it has a plug-in that will add full support for the OpenDocument Format in Microsoft Office, a capability the software giant has refused to provide.

The plug-in, which is not yet publicly available, will be submitted soon to Massachusetts, which is scheduled in January to make use of the standard ODF file format mandatory within state government. The state had been looking for such a plug-in to ease the transition from proprietary file formats found in Microsoft Office to the open standard alternative, Gary Edwards, co-founder and president of the foundation, said.

Massachusetts has become a battleground between Microsoft and ODF supporters. Microsoft is hoping to convince the state to stick with its software by convincing the ECMA,a European standards body, to approve Office 2007 before Massachusetts makes the switch. Such approval could sway state lawmakers.

Office is among Microsoft's cash cows, accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year. ODF threatens the company's dominance in office productivity applications by presenting an alternative file format supported in open source competitors, such as Open Office.

Government and businesses find standards-based file formats attractive, because they tend to be vendor agnostic and easier to move between databases, content management systems, and other applications running in heterogeneous computing environments. OpenDocument got a big boost in the standards arena this month with its approval by the International Standards Organization.

Microsoft's Office monopoly on the desktop has made it difficult, if not impossible, for organizations to move to other software. The plug-in, which was donated to the foundation from the open-source community, could become a bridge for organizations looking to wean themselves from the Redmond, Wash., software maker, Edwards said.

Many organizations watching the development of ODF "haven't seen a way of ever moving to OpenDocuments," Edwards said. "The plug-in is meant for people who haven't been able to make the leap."

Nevertheless, Edwards acknowledges that the foundation has a ways to go with Massachusetts.

"We are still at square one," he said. The foundation will first have to formally submit the plug-in to the state, which will then have to agree to test the software. In addition, the foundation wants to convince Massachusetts to invite others, such as California and the European Union, to participate in the trial. The latter has been waging its own battle with Microsoft, which the EU accuses of misusing its Windows monopoly.

Then of course, there's no guarantee the plug-in will work as advertised. Among the big problems are add-ons Massachusetts uses with Office to provide features for the visually impaired and other handicapped people, Edwards said. Those add-ons may require some work on the plug-in in order to make the ODF files compatible.

"When Massachusetts starts throwing things at the plug-in, that's when we'll really see what it can do," Edwards said. "As far as our testing goes, it does a very good job."

Despite rumors that have spread among tech blogs, the plug-in is not available for download, Edwards said. Interest is high, however. Increased traffic to the foundation Web site on Friday caused it to operate very slowly or not at all.

"People are looking for a download that doesn't exist," Edwards said.

The foundation has been in touch with Google about offering the plug-in as part of Google Pack, a bundle of desktop software offered by the search giant and Microsoft rival. Google, however, has not agreed to the idea and remains noncommittal toward OpenDocument, Edwards said.

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James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author