When I was reporting for my story and blog item on the future of desktop productivity applications, the folks at Microsoft hinted that something big was coming--but it wouldn't be ready in time to be included in my story. That something is here. On July 5, the company announced the Open XML Translator project, which will create a technical bridge between its proprietary Microsoft Office Open XML Formats and the industry-standard OpenDocument Format. This means, in the future, documents created in Microsoft Office can be read or edited in applications using the OpenDoc. It's a victory for interoperability and the interests of computer users. This clearly would not have happened but for intense pressure on Microsoft from Massachusetts and other governments that are intent upon adopting open, non-proprietary formats.

Microsoft's announcement was greeted approvingly by OpenOffice.org, one of the principal advocates of OpenDoc (aka ODF). It's almost shocking to think: Here Microsoft is creating a piece of software with partners that will be licensed under the terms of an open-source license and posted on the open-source collaboration Web site Sourceforge. But is it really the olive leaf to customers and other tech industry players that it appears to be? OpenDoc fans raised a few technical questions that I put to Microsoft. Here are the questions and answers:

Using this translator, will users be able to write/modify in ODF using Office, or just view and save? Yes. Today, the prototype is read-only, but read and write capabilities are being built as part of this project.

Will Microsoft's open source plug-ins be usable for documents prior to Office 2007? Yes, older documents can be brought forward into OpenXML using the conversion tools that come with Office for that purpose.

Will these ODF translators be written in C Sharp? The translator is a managed code (.NET Framework 2.0) and written in C Sharp for integration in Office. Because this is an open source project under the BSD license, anyone can take this project, modify it for their specific needs and integrate it into their own software.

Then a late-breaking update from Microsoft: The translator is written in both XSLT (a w3c standard) and C Sharp for integration in Office.

It doesn't look like Microsoft put any hidden booby-traps in this project that would make it less useful than it appears on the surface.

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