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Microsoft opens arms to Firefox with OXML plug-in release

Rival browser enjoys interoperability love-in

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Microsoft has today released a plug-in for Firefox that allows Open XML documents to be viewed within the popular open source browser.

The software giant said that its new Open XML Document Viewer works within Firefox and can be used on Windows and Linux platforms without needing a local installation of MS Office.

Microsoft said its new Firefox-friendly OXML* viewer would improve translations between formats including “direct interoperability” from OXML to HTML formats.

The company has also made version 2.5 of the OXML/ODF Translator available today as an add-in for MS Office 2003, 2007 and Windows Vista XP. It provides interoperability between the two rival formats, said Microsoft.

There’s also a software development kit (SDK) for Java developers who want to fiddle with OXML documents.

Redmond has been heavily pushing the interoperability envelope over the past 18 months. But its efforts to be seen to be a more open vendor were overshadowed by the contentious ratification of OOXML as an international standard in April this year.

Microsoft has also had the European Commission on its back for much of the year, with the anti-trust arm of the EC carrying out an on-going probe into alleged anti-competitive business practices by the company.

So today’s announcement will be seen – by MS at least – as going some way to placate the firm’s naysayers.

Oh, and Microsoft will undoubtedly be responding to another rival that stole a march on the firm's inability for users to view OXML docs outside of Office 2007. OpenOffice 3, which was released in October, can already allow users to view OXML documents without needing to buy Office 2007.

“Achieving interoperability between document formats requires the IT community coming together to test implementations and develop tools to promote interoperability over time,” said Microsoft interoperability manger Jean Paoli.

“We’re pleased to see the Document Interoperability Initiative (DII) events fill this important role over the past several months and result in real-world tools and solutions that will help vendors meet the interoperability needs of customers.”

Microsoft is a member of the DII working group, which includes rivals such as Novell, Dataviz and QuickOffice. It was formed in March to look at ways of improving interoperability between OXML and competing XML-based doc formats such as the open source OpenDocument Format (ODF).

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) ratified ODF as an international standard last year. In 2007 Microsoft tried and failed to see OOXML given the same status, despite trying to fast-track the process.

It was second time lucky for Redmond in April 2008 when the ISO confirmed that OOXML had indeed been ratified even as bitter protests rattled on throughout the summer months. ®

*As part of that standardisation process the format was renamed to simply Open XML. It lost the Office tag because the specification is no longer exclusively intended for Microsoft Office.

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