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Microsoft Steers OOXML Into Apache POI Project

Microsoft yesterday disclosed some collaborative efforts that will help Java applications read Microsoft Office file formats. The company is working with Sourcesense, a European open source systems integrator, on the Apache POI project.

The project was established by the open source Apache Software Foundation to create Java libraries that can read the various binary file formats used in Microsoft Office applications. Microsoft and Sourcesense are "contributing to a new version of Apache POI," according to an announcement issued by Microsoft.

In addition, Microsoft donated code to the Apache Software Foundation, according to Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform technology strategy -- although exactly what code was donated wasn't specified in Microsoft's news release.

The news comes not long after another open source milestone for Microsoft, of sorts, when Ramji announced Microsoft's work with the Eclipse Foundation to enable Eclipse tools support for Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation.

Microsoft's collaboration with Sourcesense aims to get Apache POI project support for the Ecma Office Open XML File Formats, which is the Ecma designation for the file formats used in Microsoft Office 2007 applications, such as Excel, PowerPoint and Word. The standard, also known as Office Open XML (OOXML), has been ratified as Ecma 376, but it was voted down as an ISO/IEC open international standard in September of last year.

The Apache POI project is working on application programming interfaces (APIs) that can work with Microsoft's OLE2 Compound Document formats (.doc, .ppt and .xls).
"POI" apparently stands for "Poor Obfuscation Implementation," according to a Wikipedia definition, because the Microsoft Office file formats were deemed to be "obfuscated" but not enough to prevent the reverse engineering of them.

The Apache Foundation plans to release Apache POI support for OOXML sometime during the second quarter of 2008, according to Microsoft's release.

The OOXML file format standard is not the only one out there. The Open Document Format, originally developed by Sun Microsystems, has already been published as an open ISO/IEC international standard. ODF is used in alternative office productivity suites such as OpenOffice.org.

Some in the open source communities cried foul as Microsoft's OOXML was fast-tracked in ISO/IEC. However, Microsoft has slowly been gaining new momentum. The U.S. government signaled its support for modified OOXML standards. Microsoft Office Program Manager Brian Jones points to recent "Yes" decisions for OOXML as an ISO standard by the Czech Republic and Germany in his blog.

Final ISO/IEC international votes on the proposed OOXML standard will be tallied on March 29.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.

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