Microsoft Announces UOF-OOXML Translator Project with China

We shall go on to the end,...we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…
                                     - Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940 
If there was any doubt left in anyone's mind that Microsoft will do everything that it can, and wherever it must, to ensure that ODF makes the minimum inroads possible into its vastly profitable Office franchise, the news of the day should put that doubt to rest. In the continuing tit for tat battle between ODF and OOXML, Microsoft announced yesterday it's own interoperability project to bridge the gap between China's domestically developed Unified Office Format (UOF) and Microsoft's OOXML. The announcement tracks the intent of an already-existing "harmonization" committee, hosted by OASIS, that is exploring interoperability options between ODF and UOF, and also underlines Microsoft's increasing focus on the vast Chinese market. 

This news is no surprise, in one sense. Microsoft has been waging a nation-by-nation battle for the hearts and minds of ISO/IEC JTC1 National Bodies, in an effort to win adoption of OOXML (now Ecma 376) as a global standard with equal status to ODF (now ISO 26300). In order to do so, it needs to offset the argument that one document format standard is not only enough, but preferable.  With UOF representing a third entrant in the format race, easy translation of documents created using the competing formats would obviously be key to lessen the burden on customers.  Moreover, last month, Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy called for the outright merger of UOF and ODF in a speech he delivered in Beijing – just a few days before Bill Gates arrived to keynote a Microsoft conference being held nearby.

The story is in another sense no surprise as well. While in Beijing, Gates engaged in many meetings with government and industry figures, emphasizing the importance of China to Microsoft’s future strategies. As well he might, given China’s enormous population of increasingly affluent consumers, its burgeoning industrial power, and its growing willingness to police software piracy. We now know at least one of the topics Gates wished to discuss at those meetings, and Microsoft’s decision to offer a bridge between its  world-dominating product and China’s aspiring format was a shrewd one.  Thus, the obvious motivation to neutralize the harmonization effort between ODF and UOF may have been less powerful than Microsoft’s signaling its willingness to partner with China over UOF, rather than fight it.  To the Chinese, the announcement of the translation tools project will doubtless be heralded as an impressive validation of the Chinese standard on the world stage at a time when China is still smarting over the defeat of WAPI by WIFI.
Microsoft has been pursuing closer relations with the Chinese government in its usual thorough and impressive way, and has left few, if any, details to chance. Last month, I spoke at the same Beijing event keynoted by McNeally, and had the opportunity to witness some of this thoroughness first-hand. Microsoft made its interest in the Chinese marketplace very clear in the same ways that the Chinese government uses to signal its own priorities: on the road in from the airport, huge billboards and banners touted the Microsoft conference, and on every block in the center of Beijing, signs bearing the single English word Wow!, plus additional text in Mandarin and the Microsoft Vista® logo, spread the word: Microsoft is in town, and it’s here to stay.
So what do we know so far about the UOF-OOXML translation project? According to the press release, this project, like the OOXML-ODF translator project announced by Microsoft last year, will be hosted by SourceForge.  The press release goes on to state:
UOF translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software, and ultimately will be made available as free, downloadable add-ins for Microsoft Office Word 2003 and 2007 customers from As such, the tools will be available for use with other individual and commercial projects to accelerate document interoperability across the industry and benefit Microsoft Office customers in China who need to work with the UOF standard.
A SourceForge project page has already been set up, and can be found here. A statement there promises that the translator will be available under a "very liberal BSD license," the text of which is reproduced at the SourceForge page. 

From a messaging point of view, Microsoft is teeing the initiative up as part of its "continued commitment to deliver interoperability by design," a methodology it bases on four approaches – with standardization being only one of the four (the others involve unilateral actions by Microsoft, or one-on-one activities between Microsoft and its customers). The text of the press release also references its commitment to meet the needs and requests of its government customers.  More generally, the plug quote for the release comes from Jean Paoli, general manager of Interoperability and XML Architecture at Microsoft, and reads as follows:

Our customers have told us their data needs can’t be addressed by a one-format or one-standard-fits-all approach,” said . “Everyone wants to use their data in slightly different ways. That’s why we are enabling customers to pick from whatever format they want to use with their Office documents — whether it’s ODF, Open XML, PDF, or new standards like UOF. 

This will hardly be the last beach upon which Microsoft will defend its Office franchise. And certainly the viability of its home base is hardly in question. But it remains to be seen whether this latest initiative will prove to be an effective way to expand that franchise into a huge new market, or an ineffective holding action in the erosion of its empire by ODF-compliant products. 

The project page also includes a goals statement, which reads as follows: 
As part of Microsoft’s continued commitment to interoperability, Microsoft decided to work with CHINA Electronics Standardization Institute, Beijing Information Technology Institute, one of the co-creators of the UOF Chinese standard , Beihang University of Beijing and with other partners to create a Translator between UOF and Open XML and provide interoperability between the two formats in both directions. Microsoft is funding and providing technical architectural guidance for the development of the translator that will benefit millions of people who live in China. 

Similar to an earlier ODF – OpenXML Translator project, this work is being developed as an open source collaborative effort between commercial software vendors and academic institutions under a very liberal BSD-like license. The Translator will enable Microsoft Word 2007 & Microsoft Word 2003 to read and write UOF documents. The Translator will also enable bulk translation of documents between the two formats.

A schedule at the project page calls for a prototype to be available on July 30 this summer, and for release of the full version on January 30 of next year.

As usual, the full text of the Microsoft press release is below.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Microsoft Continues to Expand Interoperability Options for Office Customers

Company funds new open source project to enable translation between the emerging Chinese UOF standard and Open XML, and delivers additional beta to enable further interoperability with ODF.

REDMOND, Wash. — May 20, 2007 — As part of its continued commitment to deliver interoperability by design, Microsoft Corp. today announced a new collaborative effort with the Beihang University (Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and others to create an open source translator project between China’s Unified Office Format (UOF) and the Ecma Open XML File Formats. In addition, the company announced the beta release of translation tools for Windows® XP, and the 2003 and 2007 versions of Microsoft® Office Excel® and Microsoft Office PowerPoint® as part of the Open XML Translator project launched in July 2006.

The UOF translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software, and ultimately will be made available as free, downloadable add-ins for Microsoft Office Word 2003 and 2007 customers from As such, the tools will be available for use with other individual and commercial projects to accelerate document interoperability across the industry and benefit Microsoft Office customers in China who need to work with the UOF standard. A preview of the UOF translator tools will be released on SourceForge this summer, with final versions expected early next year. Further details on the UOF SourceForge project are available at

“Our customers have told us their data needs can’t be addressed by a one-format or one-standard-fits-all approach,” said Jean Paoli, general manager of Interoperability and XML Architecture at Microsoft. “Everyone wants to use their data in slightly different ways. That’s why we are enabling customers to pick from whatever format they want to use with their Office documents — whether it’s ODF, Open XML, PDF, or new standards like UOF.”

The UOF-specific translator meets the needs of government and public sector customers in China who are interested in using the emerging standard, which is being developed by the Chinese Office Software Work Group (COSWG), led by the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), major suppliers of Chinese office software suites, and academic institutions such as the Beijing Information Technology Institute. The translator tools themselves will be developed and tested by leading Chinese independent software vendors and academic institutions such as the Beihang University, Beijing Information Technology Institute (one of the co-creators of the UOF Chinese standard), Tsinghua University and LitSoft (a member of Lenovo Group).

Since Microsoft first announced its support for its open source Open XML Translator project to provide interoperability between the Open XML and ODF formats, it has remained among the 25 most active projects on, and the Microsoft Office Word tool delivered earlier this year has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. More information on the ODF project is available at

The Open XML to ODF Translator is just one of many interoperability initiatives Microsoft has spearheaded. The company continues to work with others in the industry to provide access to its technologies through projects such as technical collaborations with AOL LLC and Yahoo! Inc. for instant messaging interoperability; the creation of the Interoperability Vendor Alliance and Interoperability Executive Customer Council; the collaboration with Novell; and implementation of an Open Specification Promise. Further details on Microsoft’s interoperability efforts are available at

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Comments (5)

  1. There seem to be a number of adjacent businesses which Microsoft is trying to lock together.
    <li>Microsoft Windows, which used to compete with IBM OS/2, and now competes with Linux
    <li>Microsoft Office, which sort-of competes with IBM Lotus SmartSuite, and competes with
    <li>Microsoft Small Business Server
    <p>My understanding is that in most developed economies, there are laws which say that if a corporation has a dominant position in one business, and wants to expand into an adjacent business, then it must show that it is making a profit in the second business. It’s against public policy for it to enter the second business as a ‘loss-leader’, undercutting other corporations who want to make a profit in the second business and driving them to leave the field.
    <p>Really, if Microsoft wanted to enter the Small Business Server market, they ought to sell off the Windows and/or Office businesses to some other corporation that wanted to run them.
    <p>So what’s going on with OOXML ? Settling on it as a standard isn’t going to enable interoperability with anyone; no-one else is going to come up with an independent implementation of it. There might be a few ‘good guesses’ from the OpenOffice guys, but there won’t be anything accurate.
    <p>Is it part of a ‘lock’  between Office and Small Business Server ?

  2. I think you may be missing the forest for the trees here.

    Sun has changed the game by open sourcing an their office and harmonizing with other projects on document standards they have drawn Microsoft into the open with their own products.

    The office landscape is getting closer and closer to a meritocracy which microsoft will eventually loose. They have proven many times over they don’t compete well in a true meritocracy. The best thing china can do at this point is welcome ODF and OOXML play them against each other while keeping UOF separate.

    Microsoft clearly gets that the walls are closing in and is doing everything they can to stave off the inevitable on multiple fronts. This just might be a true moment in history to savor.

  3. "Our customers have told us their data needs can’t be addressed by a one-format or one-standard-fits-all approach,”

    I have to wonder which mythical customers these are that have bothered to ring up M$ and suggest that the one document file format they have really does not quite do what they need it to and these extra requirements would only be satisfied by more than one file format. What is this guy smoking??!!

    Given that M$ Office has been the dominant de facto standard for the last umpteen years, M$ has made no attempt to wheel out these "customers" who so cannot do their work without multiple file formats. Suddenly, with viable competitors to their cash cow, these customers appear like the genie from the lamp.

    Not least I find this argument to be utterly cynical and pathetic.
    Computer hardware one uses is about choice
    Computer software / applications one uses is/should be about choice
    Computer file standards are that – standards. Choice not required!

    To give an example, when I need a screwdriver for a screw, I usually find that 2 screws are flat-head compatible while 2 other screws are cross-head compatible. I don’t stand there and celebrate the choice of screw standards available. I normally swear because I have to get 2 screw drivers!

    </2 cents>

  4. It seems the only reason that certain OSS applications did not embrace UOF is was because it completly underminded their claims of only one format being needed. But now that Micrsoft has announced they will support UOF suddenly OOo rushed out with a comment that OOo will als support UOF.

    Suddenly a lot of what is claimed here in this article is turned into pure crapp because Microsoft dared to be supporting an new open standard first. Suddenly supporting the Chinese support is more important than putting out statements about merging the formats because OOo need to be supporting UOF first or close to MS because China is to important a market.

    Actually UOF seems a bit more complete format than ODF 1.0 and probably a bit simpler to implement on theone hand but more difficult (languagewise) on the other hand. Merging both ODF and UOF and getting out a high quality implementaion might have taken 5 years or more so suggesting that was little more than smokescreen to keep away suggestions that more than one new XML format could be easily supported by application like OOo.


    • I have two primary responses to your post:

          1.  Your spelling and grammar are atrocious.  You really should take a course in English so that others can comprehend what you  are trying to convey in your posts.  I am not sure I was able to properly parse your post due to the afore-mentioned spelling and grammatical errors.  My second point is addressed to what I THINK you were trying to convey….

         2. You are confusing a standard with an application – a tactic that Microsoft and Microsoft’s various supporters and astroturfers continue to try even though it continues to fail.  Users (at least those I talk with) don’t want multiple document format standards.  We want multiple applications that utilize a common document standard.  However, since the world is imperfect, it would be a good thing for OOo to read/write UOF-formatted documents in addtion to the ODF-formated documents and the various MS-proprietary document formats that it currently supports.  This statement is true for other Office-implementations as well – even MS Office.  The fact that an application can (and does) support multiple concurrent file formats should be the exception – not the MS-driven norm.  At the time that the ODF and UOF specifications are merged and the merged specification is made available (if ever), then OOo can (and will) update its application code to support this new version of ODF/UOF, while (I’m sure) maintaining the older UOF and ODF file formats for backwards compatibility.  MS plugin-based solutions are an inherently inferior approach to this changing-specification problem as they have to be re-written and re-designed for each new specification.  Unfortunately, MS’ insistence on *not* following existing standards, but creating their own standards that match their internal document formats will make it harder for them to release new versions of MS Office each time UOF or ODF or OOXML specifications change.

      The MS OOXML standard on the other hand will apparently never support the UOF standard or be able to merge with the UOF standard in the foreseeable future – leaving the MS-Office applications the requirement to support multiple file formats in perpetuity.  I expect to hear soon that the UOF format is inferior to that of MS’ OOXML because it requires unnecessarily-complex use of multi-byte character sets to to utilize the Chinese characters in the XML specification.  I also expect to see/hear of loss of fidelity when saving to the non-MS format because the OOXML specification did not foresee the requirements of the Chinese-language character sets.  What I do not expect to hear/see is the loss of fidelity involved in reading a UOF document into MS Office, then saving it back out as a UOF document – loss of character set selections, loss of language settings, loss of application-specific settings from the current Chinese office suite.

      If MS *DOES* decide to build support for UOF into its MS Office application, it would be nice if they would provide native support for ODF at that time as well.  Failure to do so would be an indication that they really do *NOT* want interoperability with international standards, and are only ‘supporting’ UOF due to marketing reasons.  Any attempt on the part of MS to modify their OOXML specification at this late date to accomodate the UOF specification as implied by their press release stands a good chance of aborting the on-going ISO approval process – setting it back to square zero.  Not making the UOF specification an official part of their OOXML specification indicates that they *DO* know the difference between an application and a specification, but are deliberately choosing to conflate the two.

      Finally, I’m almost certain that ODF v1.0 is not the latest approved standard.  I’m pretty sure that 1.1 has been approved (ratified?) and that 1.2 is in the works (but I don’t know how far along it is), so using ODF 1.0 as a basis of comparison to the not-yet-approved OOXML specification and to the already-released UOF specification is somewhat disingenuous – don’t you agree ?

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