Sun's OpenDocument Format plugin for MS Office now shipping

As my colleague Malte Timmermann has pointed out earlier today, the Sun ODF Plug-in 1.0 for Microsoft Office is now available for download, free of charge.

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.

Comments:

And what about Office 2007? I installed the plugin before I happened to notice the supported Office versions, and sure enough, it doesn't work. Installation succeeded, and Word did indeed have ODT listed as an available format, but any attempt to open a file gave me an error that said: "The Office Open XML file Test Doc 1.odt cannot be opened because there are problems with the contents. Details: The file is corrupt and cannot be opened." Will this be compatible with Office 2007 any time soon?

Posted by Mark Erikson on July 03, 2007 at 11:08 AM PDT #

Congrats to your team. The effort is much appreciated. Actually, I visited M$ site and grabbed the ODT plug-in, and I have discovered it works surprisingly well. I have only used it with Office 2K3.

Posted by AG on July 04, 2007 at 01:12 AM PDT #

Mark: the reason we don't support Office 2007 in this release is due to a bug in Word's input filters (see Malte Timmermann's FAQ on the plug-in. We hope Microsoft will fix this; if not we plan to release an update with less-clean Open/Save dialog integration, but that nonetheless gets the job done.

Posted by Peter Korn on July 04, 2007 at 03:15 AM PDT #

what a pity that it don't support Office 2007

Posted by autooo on July 05, 2007 at 02:21 AM PDT #

Hi Peter,

Thank you very much for you post. I am the person driving this project. “Gary”, however, is my evil twin; I’ve heard a lot about him, but never met him in person. My name is actually “Gray.” (This will help you learn more about my history with PDF, InfoPath and Open XML.) I’m not sure that the “who did this?” question matters as much as your post seems to indicate, but this should help you learn more.

You are correct that my role at Microsoft is leading a technical product management team for Office client applications. Open XML is among the topics we address, I also believe you’ve had an opportunity to meet with Reed Shaffner, a member of my team specifically focused on the accessibility of the Microsoft Office system. I spend a majority of my time working on Open XML adoption, and helping Microsoft Office administrators users understand the impact of a file format change. Part of what I do involves fact-finding research, to inform our public communication and to educate people internally about the use of Office and related technologies.

(In case you were interested) prior to Microsoft, I worked for Adobe, on the Adobe Acrobat product management team. My primary contribution to the product was to improve the creative professional functionality supported in Acrobat 6 & 7. Most relevant to this discussion; PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3 support were added to the product as part of the desire to promote the use of PDF within the professional printing industry. I was involved in the addition of PDF/A support as well.

The sum of my personal time investment in document format standards-related work is approximately 6 years. I am not the person who signs up to sit in the committee; I am the person trying to turn these standards into actionable products which have value to people. I have spent time working with organizations like DDAP (www.ddap.org) and BFMA (www.bfma.org) to better understand how standards that may benefit a particular community are actually used (or not used, in many cases).

I’ll state right up front that I have a strong distaste for the hair-pulling and shin-kicking that goes on in the Open XML discussion. Because my primary interest in Open XML (and any other document format) is related to the people who use the software, the energy I spend on Open XML is devoted to helping IT professionals plan for a transition into a more open environment, helping partners and developers take advantage of these new formats, and ensuring that the benefit of more open file formats are realized with minimal disruption for people who use our software.

The research I posted on OpenXMLDeveloper.org was developed in part to educate a few individuals who claimed that “Open XML does not support accessibility.” – To give the commenter the benefit of the doubt, it was to correct some significant misunderstanding they were perpetuating about the specification. It was not intended to be a definitive guide to accessibility of Open XML. We are aware that the WCAG1.0 guidelines might not be the most appropriate of benchmarks today, but there are few finalised alternatives. I do work with our accessibility team on evaluating Open XML against the developing standards, and as I am sure you are aware we are active participants in these processes; however it would not be appropriate at this point to publish anything until those efforts are completed.

The scope of the original project was not intended to provide the more significant contribution to the accessibility community you describe in your post, but I posted this project to OpenXMLDeveloper.org specifically for this reason. I do hope this project can become the contribution that you and others have expressed interest in evaluating.

Much like the ODF Translator project on SourceForge, I felt that this project provide might provide greater benefit to the accessibility community if it was conducted in public. I hope that our accessibility partners and the Open XML community at large can utilize this information to improve accessibility support within their products. I do plan to submit this research to Ecma for consideration in future versions of the Open XML standard; Ecma 376 has great accessibility support in its current form (and really didn’t need to be prodded in public to do so), it would seem that Ecma TC-45 is amenable to the topic.

So, consider your feedback on how the evaluation might be improved as noted and under consideration for the next phase of the project (which is to do more research and highlight more examples.) And, THANK YOU. I absolutely welcome your participation in this effort, and I am very happy to hear additional thoughts you have on accessibility of Open XML.

I’ll also offer you an apology for the condition of the PDF posted on the project. Having been a product manager of Acrobat in the past, I am somewhat embarrassed to have not used the tools in Acrobat for making PDF documents more accessible. I did create a Tagged PDF, as you noted, but I haven’t installed Acrobat on my new hardware yet, so I did not have the ability to edit the PDF to correct this easily. (Just to dispel any conspiracy theories.)

Speaking of PDF, would you mind please pointing out the list of W3C recommendations supported by PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 and PDF/A? It’s been a few years, but I don’t recall the use of XForms, SVG or MathML in these specifications. These are all ISO standards today, so I’m curious to compare this with the ODF example you cited in your post.

Regards,

Gray Knowlton,

Group Product Manager

Microsoft Office

Posted by Gray Knowlton on July 06, 2007 at 01:08 AM PDT #

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