Microsoft To Work With Chinese Org on Office XML Format

Microsoft, in its latest foray into the love/hate relationship with the open source community, is extending the interoperability between a number of its products and the Chinese open document format.

On Sunday, Microsoft announced an initiative with the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics to create an open source translator project between its Open XML document format and China’s Unified Office Format (UOF). UOF is an open, XML-based format developed by various Chinese groups. Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy recently called UOF one of the three main document formats available, along with Open XML and the open source Open Document Format (ODF). McNealy also called for a merging of ODF and UOF, according to a blog entry from Andy Updegrove, a lawyer who represents technology companies and open source organizations.

In a related development, Microsoft also announced the beta release of translation tools for several Office programs, including the 2003 and 2007 versions of Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Windows XP. The new tools are part of the Open XML Translator project, launched in July 2006 to enable "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,” Jean Paoli, general manager of Interoperability and XML Architecture at Microsoft, said in the release.

The translators will enable the Microsoft programs to read and write UOF documents (which are in "*.uof" format) and enable bulk translation of documents between formats. Since the translator project was begun on, a Web site for open source software development, it has remained one of the 25 most active projects, according to Microsoft.

Bob Sutor, IBM vice president for Open Source and Standards and a frequent critic of Microsoft's open source efforts, remained skeptical about the Open XML [which he calls OOXML] -- UOF collaboration.

"There will be questions of how well it is integrated with Microsoft Office," he stated in an e-mail exchange with 1105 Media. "Will it be slow? Will it be easy to use? How complete will the translation be? Have they gotten the cooperation of the Chinese government on this or is this, in effect, a rogue effort? Do the Chinese want documents taken out of UOF form and put in OOXML form, or is Microsoft being a bit too heavy handed here?"

Many people are questioning Microsoft's open source intentions, since the company seems to have something of a split personality on the issue. On one hand, it's been working with Novell on interoperability with its SuSE version of Linux. On the other, it recently dropped a bombshell when it claimed in a magazine story that Linux and other open source software infringe on 235 Microsoft patents. Microsoft has since leavened its criticism, stating in media reports that it's not ready to sue, but the point was certainly made, loud and clear, that it is watching open source development closely.

Sutor believes that Microsoft's work with UOF is mainly a way to gain further ground into the gigantic Chinese market.

"Is this an attempt to have more people use Office? I would certainly think so, but that's Microsoft's commercial goal in most cases, I would assume."

According to the SourceForge Web site, the UOF translator is scheduled for open release on Jan. 30, 2008.

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].