Sun's OpenDocument Format plugin for MS Office now shipping
By Peter Korn on Jul 03, 2007
The plug-in is an extension to Microsoft Office that allows it to read and write ISO standard ODF files. It supports Office 2000, XP, and 2003, and works on Windows XP and Vista. It adds to MS Office the ability to read and write ODF text, spreadsheet, and presentation files (.odt, .ods, and .odp) - the ISO standard editions of MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. Furthermore, ODF text files (.odt) can be made the default format for MS-Word thanks to this plug-in (and double-clicking on an ODF text file on the desktop would automatically open it in MS-Word).
Addressing the accessibility concerns of existing MS-Office users was one of the key reasons behind Sun's development of the ODF plug-in, and I have been one of several folks involved in testing the accessibility of this plug-in (along with several beta testers whose employees with disabilities were likewise doing accessibility testing). I'm delighted to report that all aspects of the plug-in - from installation through to operation from within MS-Office - works very well with commercial Windows AT products. The ODF plug-in works very well with screen reader and screen magnifiers and voice recognition/dictation systems and text-creation assistance applications. It likewise works well with the basic accessibility features built into Windows - with themes for folks with visual impairments and with the limited MS-Windows built-in AT like Narrator\* and Magnifier. This means that existing users of MS-Office can move to ODF without sacrificing any of the accessibility they have achieved, because they need never leave MS-Office.
\* Note: Narrator doesn't read MS-Office content, because Microsoft doesn't support its own screen reader with its own office applications, unlike UNIX distributions like Solaris and Ubuntu, which ship with a screen reader that is able to read (and Braille) office application documents. Unfortunately the ODF plug-in is unable to change this, so Narrator won't read ODF files anymore than it can read Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files.