OpenXML/ODF Interoperability

The challenge: interoperability between different document formats

If you are seeking to collaborate efficiently and successfully you have to speak the same language as the persons sitting across from you — or have a reliable translator. The same applies to document processing in which different proprietary “languages” make communication difficult.

The goal is to remedy this problem with open standards for file formats. Yet two ISO standards are vying for the prize: Office Open XML (OpenXML), the standard file format used in Microsoft Office from version 2007 (ISO/IEC 29500:2008), and Open Document Format (ODF), used by and related office suites (ISO/IEC 26300:2006).

In order to ensure exchangeability — or interoperability — between these two document formats, OpenXML documents have to be converted to ODF and ODF documents to OpenXML so they can be opened in the other office suite. Despite possessing similar features, small differences in details and properties that exist in only one of the two formats make conversion a real challenge.

The solution: conversion using open source apps

2006 saw the launch of the Open Source Project by Microsoft, its designated purpose: the development of a converter between OpenXML and ODF. This initiative is designed to enable users to open ODF documents directly in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint and save them.

There are now free add-ins available for Office XP, 2003, 2007 and 2010. An additional command-line tool enables conversion to be performed automatically without the respective office application.

The project: OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office

This project has been established as an international multi-team project with teams based in France, Germany, Poland, the U.S. and India. In this project DIaLOGIKa is responsible for:

  • Specification of the features to be translated
  • Technical consulting of the other project teams
  • Development tasks (converter for documents)
  • Quality assurance (scenario-based testing, test and release management)

Quality assurance is done using real-world administrative and business documents and is supported by users at the European Commission, Fedict (in Belgium), and others.

Interested parties can actively support the project on the SourceForge collaboration platform, which is intensively used for project communication, development and quality assurance.

The technology: cross-platform

At the heart of the converter’s structure are XSL transformations between XML-based document formats. Additional code portions in .NET/C# enable special cases to be handled efficiently and the converter to be embedded in office applications.

The use of XSLT and .NET/C# enables the command-line converter to also be deployed on platforms other than Windows provided a .NET runtime environment like Mono is installed.

The results

More than half a million downloads demonstrate the substantial interest in the project: The OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-ins for Office are employed by many users throughout the world; the use of the add-in for Microsoft Office 2003 in the European Institutions of the European Commission is only one example of many in which the converter performs a crucial service.

DIaLOGIKa also contributes to other projects by virtue of its document format expertise:

  • Collaboration in the ISO white paper of the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS) on Interoperability of Document Formats
  • Development of an open source converter for the conversion of binary Microsoft Office formats to OpenXML
  • Provision of converter tools in a EU research project for the preservation of our digital legacy (PLANETS)
  • Collaboration with the producers of ODF applications at international events (ODF Plugfests)

DIaLOGIKa is also a member of the Document Description and Processing Languages Committee of DIN, the German Institute for Standardization (NA 043-01-34 AA).

Satisfied voices

DIaLOGIKa’s extensive office application expertise and its involvement early on with file formats have made it a key development partner for Microsoft:

Have we piqued your interest?

Don’t hesitate to draw on our expertise when it comes to format and conversion issues in migration projects. We’re as far away as your phone.

Dirk Vollmar

Dirk Vollmar
Head of Interoperability

Telefon: +49 (6897) 935-192
Telefax: +49 (6897) 935-492

I look forward to hearing from you.