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Microsoft to License Open Document Format Translators for Office Software

Responding to government requests for interoperability, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) said on Thursday it will offer free software that will allow Word, Excel and PowerPoint to handle documents in rival technology formats.

The translation tools will be developed and licensed as open-source software, and will be offered as downloadable add-ins for several older versions of the Microsoft Office system, the Redmond, Washington-based company said.

[The tools add accessibility to open-source Open Document Format (ODF) files, the default file types created by Sun Microsystems's StarOffice and the related free OpenOffice software suites. Several governments, including the state of Massachusetts and the Belgian federal government, are examining the format, or plan to switch to it, partly out of fears that future versions of Microsoft's Office suite might not be able to read older files.]

Microsoft also said the translation tools will be broadly available to the industry to accelerate document interoperability and expand customer choice between Open XML and other technologies.

Electronic document translation between different fixed formats is always going to be somewhat inexact, said Andrew Hopkirk, director of the U.K.'s National Computing Center's e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) program.

Like human language translations, concepts and specifications will differ in detail, Hopkirk said in a statement released by Microsoft.

"This tool promises to be a very significant development in the trend toward practical open document standards and, critically, customer-friendly means to move between them," he said.

Microsoft is developing the translation tools in collaboration with the France-based IT solution provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany.