Novell and Microsoft teaming up on document interoperability

I'm sure by now most folks have read the news on the collaboration agreement between Novell and Microsoft. If not, you can read more up on the Microsoft interoperability site: (Novell's press release is here)

There are a number of really cool pieces to this (Jason Matusow blogged on this yesterday), and one of those directly relates to the Office Open XML file formats. With this announcement Novell has said they will do the development work to allow OpenOffice to support the Office Open XML formats. This plug-in will be directly distributed with their edition of OpenOffice, but it will also be provided back to the organization so that everyone can leverage it. 

Another great piece is that they are going to start participating in the Open XML Translator project. It's an open source project we helped start back in the summer that will translate from Open XML to ODF and from ODF to Open XML. It's a really sweet project because it could be plugged in just about anywhere. You can read more about it on the blog that the developers of the project set up (

Here is some more information from the FAQ up on Novell's site (

Document Format Compatibility. Microsoft and Novell have been focusing on ways to improve interoperability between office productivity applications. The two companies will now work together on ways for OpenOffice and Microsoft Office users to best share documents and both will take steps to make translators available to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument Formats.

As you know, Novell has been working with us the past year on the Ecma standardization of the Office Open XML file formats. Jody Goldberg, who works on both Gnumeric as well as Open Office was a huge help with SpreadsheetML. One of the key things that Novell was focused on was ensuring that the formats were fully documented and interoperable so that they could support them as well.

I also really liked reading Michael Meeks' blog on this subject. Michael is a distinguished engineer from Novell who works on OpenOffice (and he's Jody's manager):

  • Inevitably people will have some really good questions here, and to save my fingers I thought I'd point out a few points.
    • Why help Microsoft with OpenXML interop. ? OpenXML sucks, OpenDocument Rocks !? . So several thoughts:
      • This should not be a surprise - Jody Goldberg (on my team) has been working hard for months with Microsoft and others on the ECMA process. At one stage there around 1/2 the open 'issues' wrt. improving disclosure (and hence the spec.) came from Jody. I for one am proud of the job that he did there, an (ongoing) investment that will yield better interoperability for years to come.
      • As I have said for many months now, focusing on an 'Open-Standard' of ~700 pages written by a small team over a short period, is to miss the staggering value that is found in Free software. OpenOffice (as anyone who tried to start it recently knows) contains millions of lines of code, and a staggering investment of thousands of man years of sweat, tears (and perhaps blood). It's localized to umpteen languages, has deep help, scripting, accessibility, interoperability; it's just an immensely feature rich and powerful product.
      • To re-emphasise this, the value in is not what file format it supports (eg. we want to add good Lotus Word Pro support) but that it is truly Free software, that gives people critical Freedoms. An open format is anyhow implicit in the native file format of any openly developed Free software project.
      • Telling people about open standards, instead of Free Software is easy - 'normal' people generate data, not software so they understand, but it sells them radically short. In my view better interoperability (with any and all formats) strengthens Free Software, quite without the obvious pragmatic benefits to users & customers.
    • Why do business with these scum ?
      • It's true there is a widespread perception of unfair business practice from Microsoft out there, but my experience of working in the ECMA process with the developers, has been of meeting a (to my mind) mis-directed, but equally passionate world-view based around the love of their technology.
      • Broadly, I think it's fair to say there is a certain kind of person that loves to solve complex, technical problems, and I like that kind of person. It's also interesting to note that the average Microsoft (from my small sample) political viewpoint is -way- to the left of the average Novell Free software developer (perhaps a statistical aberration but ...). So, in a nutshell, they're good guys, if mis-directed. The great news is that we can help change that direction and get these guys addicted to the Free Software model.
      • One couple it was fun to meet, both on the Office team, obviously in love, confided in me that they had delayed their marriage to meet the Office 12 schedule: is that dedication ? Let's hope Wedding 2007 will ship on time; but imagine if we can help focus these guys on improving Linux <-> Windows interoperability, and in time Free software for it's own sake.
    • What does it mean for OpenOffice ? - my hope is over the long haul: better interop, more bodies hacking on OO.o, wider penetration of (Novell's) OpenOffice into the enterprise, and more individuals able to boldly hack on Free software.
    • What does it mean for Hackers ? - of course, I'm pleased that our team got such a great formal IPR covenant for individual developers from Microsoft. For sceptics that think this is a pure gesture, it's always surprising to me how a few key people seem to pop up again and again in Free software, and not everyone has the 7 year stamina that can be required, the RIAA demonstrates the danger well.
    • What does it mean for Novell ? - I'm pleased that it seems Microsoft will be distributing lots of SLES coupons, the more the merrier. Of course Nat and Miguel who helped setup the deal have a clearer view.
    • What is this Translator ? - it's the early stages of a open-source project to make a standalone bi-directional Open XML to OpenDocument converter. See SourceForge: odf-converter. What is important to me is not the set of design choices here (eg. a standalone XML to XML converter, though that may be useful for other Free software projects, or it's capabilities: a sub-set of Word only so far), but the end-goal of getting substantially better MS Office interop. (with OpenXML) into OO.o.

It's really cool to see that there will be a number of office applications (Corell, OpenOffice, older versions of MS Office) that will have support for these formats. I've personally been even more excited about the smaller 3rd party non-"office-type" applications that can also now get involved in consuming and generating rich office documents. It continues to raise the value of office documents, as they are no longer just a black box, but instead every office document can serve as a data source. I'm like the possibilities for the developer community that keeps growing here. There is obviously a ton of valuable information that's going to be made available via solution providers. The fact that to both consuming and generating documents has become so much easier is huge.

The translator project is particularly interesting though as it makes it easier for folks to choose the format they want to work with. The Office Open XML formats clearly have customer needs that they were designed to solve; and the OpenDocument format had customer needs that those folks were trying to solve.


P.S. Michael,
Tristan and Krista are still on track for the wedding (and it will actually be Wedding 2006, not 2007 :-)