Novell Boosts and Microsoft Office Interoperability

The previous post covered an article about Open Standards that ended with the following:
When Gutierrez announced his resignation as Massachusetts CIO in early October, he cited the legislature’s failure to pass a bond bill that included funding for key IT projects. Since the bill also would have funded non-IT projects, the stall didn’t appear to be directly tied to any remaining opposition to the ODF policy.
Ironically, on Nov. 2, Gutierrez’s last day as CIO, Microsoft announced an agreement with Novell Inc. that included a pledge to cooperate on development of translation software to improve the way ODF and Open XML work together.
What a difference nine months had made.

Here's some more information on that Novell announcement:
Novell today announced that the Novell® edition of the office productivity suite will now support the Office Open XML format, increasing interoperability between and the next generation of Microsoft Office. Novell is cooperating with Microsoft and others on a project to create bi-directional open source translators for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations between and Microsoft Office, with the word processing translator to be available first, by the end of January 2007. The translators will be made available as plug-ins to Novell’s product. Novell will release the code to integrate the Open XML format into its product as open source and submit it for inclusion in the project. As a result, end users will be able to more easily share files between Microsoft Office and, as documents will better maintain consistent formats, formulas and style templates across the two office productivity suites.
“Novell supports the OpenDocument format as the default file format in because it provides customer choice and flexibility, but interoperability with Microsoft Office has also been critical to the success of,” said Nat Friedman, Novell chief technology and strategy officer for Open Source. “ is very important to Novell, and as our customers deploy Linux* desktops across their organizations, they're telling us that sharing documents between and Microsoft Office is a must-have. The addition of Open XML support reflects Novell's commitment to providing enterprise customers the tools they need to be successful, from the desktop to the data center.”

Some are calling this an OOo fork, which seems a little bit disingenuous. The add-in is BSD licensed, so OOo would be more than able to merge this upstream if they so desire. As more details get released on the recent Microsoft/Novell deal though, it's becoming clear that Microsoft got a bit more than was at first obvious. They have a lot of lawyers, so this should come as no surprise. The last article showed how important it is to Microsoft that OpenXML be considered an “Open” Standard. The ability for them to keep a large amount of Office installs may actually depend on it. This move will almost certainly lend credence to their claims, especially in the eyes of legislators who are unlikely to understand the finer points of the issue. That could end up being loss, not only for Open Source, but for the push for Open Standards. This issue is too important for it to be decided for the wrong reasons. It's an issue I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on.
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