David Berlind continues his excellent coverage of the less-exciting-than-it-used-to-be controversy over the now ISO standard OASIS ODF vs the soon-to-be-ECMA-and-then-ISO Microsoft Open XML standard. David also reports on a suspicously timed appearance of a reverse engineered plug-in for Microsoft Office that converts Office files to ODF.
Open Document Format ISO ratified – ODF Word plugin surfaces
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Suspiciously timed? I wish. Work on the ODF Plugin has been an on and off affair for over two years. It was during a conference call with Massachusetts ITD exec Timothy Vaverchak and Sam Hiser that the issue of the RFi was first broached.
The conference call itself had to do with desktop migration strategies, specifically the benefits of converting a Win32 bound desktop to an ODF ready environment using GooglePack and OpenOffice.org.
It was in this context that Timothy told us that plans for a MS Office ODF Plug-in RFi was imminent. At that point i told Timothy that the OpenDocument Foundation was nearing completion on an ODF plug-in for all versions of MS Word 97 through the MS Office 12 beta of Word. And that we were less than six months out on Excel and PowerPoint.
It is true that the RFi was reason enough for us out of the shadows. I think Massachusetts was hoping that by going the RFi route instead of issuing a formal RFP, many other efforts would similarly be brought forward. My understanding now is that Massachusetts had been requesting an ODF Plug-in from their traditional vendors and consulting sources, but were told it couldn’t be done. There is the sense that no one was listening to the Commonwealth’s problem. So the RFi was perhaps designed to reach out beyond the realm of customary respondents, to engage the world at large.
If there is anything “suspicious” here it’s that clearly a marketplace demand for such a plug-in exists, but no one dares invest the finance, time, and expert developer resources to service that demand. Strange isn’t it? The RFi itself shouts loudly that it seeks to identify the hidden costs and disclosure problems preventing developers from perfecting (or even attempting) an ODF plug-in.
All i can say is this. The Foundation’s ODF plug-in works exactly the way Massachusetts desires. It installs itself as a MS Office add-on, enabling File Menu “open, save, save as” ODF functionality, including setting the default file format to ODF. There is zero disruption to MS Word functionality, and we expect the same with the other MS Office applications. In fact, the disruption to MS Office bound business processes is so negligible as to be non existent. Even “Accessibility Add – On” users will not know they are working in ODF. The yelling and shouting and fear filled angst will all be for naught.
All accessibility add ons will work exactly the same way they were designed to work, even though they will be working in ODF. They won’t even know they are working in ODF! Thus ending once and for all any concerns the accessibility community might have about moving to an ODF environment.
It’s also true that the Foundation’s ODF plug-in will greatly extend the useful life of existing MS Office installations. MS Office 97 will become a first class citizen as long as the feature set is still relevant. Meaning, there will no longer be a need to upgrade existing legacy installs of MS Office just to meet the exchange needs caused by newer versions of MS Office introducing file format incompatibilities. Just install the plug-in, set default to ODF, and motor on. The end of version madness is near.
Hope this helps,