Microsoft has made a number of announcements today designed to boost its standing in the open document standards world.
The software giant said that, in acknowledgement of the current confusion around document formats, for example Microsoft's Office Open XML and the rival Open Document Format, it is supporting a new project designed to alleviate most of the common issues faced by enterprises.
The project is the work of the Fraunhofer FOKUS research institute in Germany, and involves the building of a document format test library and validation tool. Microsoft will support the project with cash and as a development partner.
Microsoft said that the project will help companies to determine which standard had been used to create a given document, guaranteeing that business users will be able to access and exchange any data within that document.
"Microsoft will continue to champion increased openness through access to our products, and collaboration with others, to build interoperability solutions that can be applied to real-world problems," said Jean Paoli, general manager for interoperability strategy at Microsoft.
"Greater interoperability fosters choice and flexibility for customers, which we believe will fuel technology innovation and economic growth."
The firm's participation has been welcomed by the Fraunhofer researchers, particularly for the part it will play in wider interoperability schemes.
"The introduction of open standards like ISO/IEC 29500 is the first step towards a new era of document interoperability, but we have no guarantee that any implementation of the standard is correct unless we develop a way to test its output," said Klaus-Peter Eckert, senior resea rcher at Fraunhofer FOKUS.
"Creating these tools will ease the effective exchange of data today, and improve the long-term benefits for data archiving."
David Mitchell, senior vice president for IT research at analyst firm Ovum, suggested that the moves represent a cooling off of emotions in the open document debate, which had held back developments.
"Microsoft has been working on these interoperability initiatives for some time now, bringing together user communities and development parties from around the world," he said.
"The focus of the efforts has been to ensure that customers work with the tools of their choice, while still being able to work with customers and partners who have made different choices. It is heartening to see the standards community focusing on practicalities, rather than the emotive battles that had come to characterise the debates [before] the Open XML standard was ratified by the ISO."
The proposals were discussed at the Document Interoperability Initiative (DII) global forum in London, which also saw the release of a number of products to support interoperable files.
These included Open XML Document Viewer v1.0, a plug-in for the Opera browser that should help users access documents via the web or across mobile devices, and the Apache POI 3.5 software development kit, which includes a Java API to access information in the Open XML Format.
The Open XML-ODF translator, meanwhile, now has support for .XLS and .PPT file formats, and improved ability to translate between ODF and Open XML formats.
"The collaborative work being done through the DII is invaluable to the evolution of these document translator projects," said Doug Mahugh, lead standards professional for the Microsoft Office Interoperability team.
"Document interoperability is about people and companies dedicated to working together over the long haul to solve customer issues."
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