Sun, Microsoft answer calls for ODF/Office converter

Seven companies have responded to a call by Massachusetts officials for information on software plug-ins that would allow Microsoft Office users to read and write files in the OpenDocument format (ODF). Among those that replied are Sun Microsystems Inc., a strong proponent of ODF, and Microsoft Corp., a strong opponent.

Sun and five other companies have created plug-ins that create compatibility between Office file formats and ODF, a free XML file standard based on the open-source productivity software suite. ODF was ratified as an open standard by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in May, according to information posted on the Web site of the state's IT Division.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said it is freely supplying technical documents and intellectual property rights to third-party developers working on such a plug-in.

Those developers include Sun, which said it has created two ways to convert any Office file to ODF using its own StarOffice software; OpenDocument Foundation Inc., a Redwood City, Calif.-based group that said it has developed converters for Microsoft Word and Excel files and is now working on PowerPoint; and four smaller companies, all of which have developed file converters for Word, Excel or PowerPoint, but not all three.

Waltham, Mass.-based Media Entities Inc. is typical. The two-person firm sells to publishing companies a high-priced XML file converter that can convert Microsoft Word files to ODF, said Bruce Kulik, the company's chief technology officer. "We read about this in the trade press and thought, 'Hey, we're in Massachusetts. Why don't we offer them what we've got?'" Kuliks said. "We're not big OpenOffice fanatics. But if the state wants to get out from under the Microsoft monopoly, we can provide the technology."

Massachusetts plans to make ODF its standard method for exchanging all official government documents by Jan. 1.