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And Now There are Two: Sun Announces its ODF Plug-in

OpenDocument and OOXML

Sun announced today that it would make a "preview" version of its Office to ODF plugin in "mid February," with the full version to follow "later this spring."  Plugins will be available for use with both Sun's StarOffice as well as the open source OpenOffice.org office suite.  The announcement comes five days after Microsoft announced the immediate availability of its Office to ODF plugin at SourceForge.   

At this time, neither plugin will work with all versions of Office.  According to the press release issued by Sun just now (the full text appears below), the Sun plugin will only work with Office 2003 text documents, while the Microsoft plugin will (according to Martin LaMonica) apparently be usable in connection with Office 2003, Office XP and Office 2007 (Elizabeth Montalbano, on the other hand, says that it will only assist users that upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007; I'll give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, and go with Martin's report).   Initially, that means that most Office users will be able to use either one, the other, or both alternatives. 

Similarly, both plugins will initially only convert Word documents, although the developers on each version team are working on enabling conversion of spreadsheets and presentations (the Sun version will be available in April; I do not know the expected delivery date for the Microsoft version).  Again, the Microsoft plugin will only work with Office 2007.

The Sun press release promotes another feature of the plugin: its ability to ease accessibility concerns for the community of the disabled that wish to continue to use Office, but need to receive, output or save documents in ODF format.  In fact, the plugin that will be publicly released is the same software that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been using as part of its January 2007 conversion to ODF, a choice that was made with the cooperation and approval of disabled community representatives.   

Concurrently, version 1.1 of ODF, with increased accessibility features, has just been approved as an OASIS standard. 

The existence of two plugins will bring a new dynamic into the competition between OOXML and ODF based products.  Sun has opted to begin by providing a tool that Office 2003 users can use, while Microsoft has funded an open source-developed plugin that will work with a few more Office flavors.  Existing Office users will therefore have an array of choices: to stay with their existing version of Office and choose whichever plugin they like best, or to upgrade to either Office 2007 or to one of the many ODF-based proprietary and open source offerings.  In any such case, they will be able to manage documents created in either the ODF or the OOXML format.

In an ironic twist, training staff to convert from an existing version of Office to an ODF-compliant product (such as OpenOffice or StarOffice) might require less training (and related costs) than an upgrade to Office 2007, due to the great deal of similarity between many ODF products and the current version of Office, in contrast to the dramatic differences that exist between Office 2007 and its predecessors.

The release of these two offerings at this time is doubtless no coincidence, coming as it does as OOXML (now Ecma 376) has begun the ISO/IEC review process – a process that has gotten off to a troubled start, with 19 national bodies voicing opposition during the one month "contradictions" phase of the Fast Track process into which it was introduced.  Independently, the existence of the plugins both validates, as well as facilitates, the further growth and acceptance of ODF-compliant products in the marketplace. 

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Sun Microsystems Announces OpenDocument Format (ODF) Plug-in Application for Microsoft Office

Users of accessibility devices now fully able to participate in organizations switching to ODF   

MENLO PARK, Calif. - February 7, 2007 - Sun Microsystems, Inc. (NASDAQ: SUNW), the largest code contributor to free and open source communities, today announced the upcoming availability of the StarOffice(TM) 8 Conversion Technology Preview plug-in application for Microsoft Office 2003. The early access version of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) plug-in, available as a free download, will allow seamless two-way conversion of Microsoft Office documents to ODF.  

“Organizations can now consider switching to ISO/IEC 26300 OpenDocument Format while protecting employees needing assistive devices only supported by legacy Microsoft software,” said Rich Green, executive vice president, Software at Sun Microsystems. “ODF is important because it ensures documents will still be readable long into the future while allowing a wide choice of proprietary and open source software choices to work with the documents.” 

The StarOffice 8 Conversion Technology Preview is primarily based on the OpenOffice.org platform, the open-source office productivity suite developed by the OpenOffice.org community including the founder and main contributor Sun Microsystems. Sun offers distributions and configurations of and support for OpenOffice.org under the StarOffice brand. The initial plug-in application will support the conversion of text documents (.doc/.odt) only, but full support of spreadsheet and presentation documents is expected in April. The conversion is absolutely transparent to the user and the additional memory footprint is minimal. 

The Executive Department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently using the converter to meet the previously identified January, 2007 compliance date for the start of a phased migration to the ODF format. In addition to allowing the Commonwealth's existing Microsoft Office applications to read and write ODF text files, the converter permits the continued use of the state's chosen accessibility technologies to meet the needs of people with disabilities. 

“Adoption of the ISO Standard OpenDocument Format has grown significantly in the past year, as more governments and businesses around the world embrace the standard,” said Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, a group of more than 350 organizations, governments and companies that promotes and advances the use of OpenDocument Format as the primary document format for governments. “This plug-in will simplify and further accelerate implementation of ODF by allowing users to standardize their work flows on ODF, so that they become vendor independent and can choose between multiple implementations and suppliers going forward.” 

The OpenDocument Format was accepted as an official OASIS standard in May 2005, and adopted by the International Standards Organization in May 2006. 

The StarOffice 8 Conversion Technology Preview is expect to be available mid-February 2007 at sun.com/openoffice with the final release expected later this spring.  

About Sun Microsystems, Inc.

A singular vision -- "The Network Is The Computer" -- guides Sun in the development of technologies that power the world's most important markets. Sun's philosophy of sharing innovation and building communities is at the forefront of the next wave of computing: the Participation Age. Sun can be found in more than 100 countries and on the Web at http://sun.com. 

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