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Interoperability eludes Office and OpenOfffice

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The simple task of opening a Microsoft Word document in OpenOffice using Open Document Format (ODF) and moving it back without jeopardizing your hard work continues to prove elusive.

Researchers have found a continued lack of interoperability between Office Open XML (OOXML), used in Word 2003 and 2007, and ODF more than a year after OOXML joined ODF as an official international ISO standard.

Their work also comes almost a year and a half after Microsoft convened an industry group with the job of closing the gap between the two, with Novell separately working on interoperability between ODF and OOXML.

Novell in December 2006 promised translators for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations between the ODF-based OpenOffice.org and Microsoft's Office.

Despite this, the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communications Systems (FOKUS) has found the level of formatting that'll be retained in a document will vary according to the parts of the document in question and the application or tools you use to open the document.

"Many of the functionalities, especially those found in simpler documents, can be translated between the standards, while the translation of other functionalities can prove complex or even impossible," FOKUS wrote in a white paper that wrapped up its research.

Also important was the where the document originated. "On a round-trip conversion it cannot be guaranteed that the initial document and the document resulting from the conversion will be identical," the paper said.

FOKUS tested interoperability between documents and spreadsheets, looking at presentation instructions, content, metadata, annotations, and elements such as headlines, tables, and captions. The team found problems with white spaces, graphics, and tables, while tracking changes are not supported in ODF in tables. Text formatting was "highly translatable".

FOKUS identified problems when moving a document from OOXML to ODF and back, or ODF to OOXML and back - called round-tripping - and when moving a document in just one direction.

The group earlier this year promised a document-test library and validation tool that would let developers verify if software they're building is compatible with OOXML.

The ability to move documents between OOXML and ODF has been a long-running issue, and the FOKUS report indicates that concerns raised elsewhere (here and here) over the level of interoperability between the two have yet to be completely solved.

You can read the full FOKUS report here (PDF). ®

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