Symphony Thursday: Team Blog on Document Interoperability

April 23 2009

Most readers here know that I am very big on the document independence nad interoperability movement going thru the industry right now. The age of application automation and file format lock-in is giving way to document generation and open standard, document formats.

The Lotus Symphony Team Blog has an new entry written by Wei Guo SHI, Development Manager for the product:

In current Office market, there are a number of document formats, includes not only traditional binary formats, e.g. Microsoft Office binary format, Lotus SmartSuite format, but also XML based open standard document formats, e.g. ODF(ISO26300), UOF(China national Office standard format), and OOXML(ISO29500), as well as other popular formats, e.g. HTML, PDF etc.

For each document format, there are multiple implementations, a large number of end users, and a huge amount of existing documents. With the requirements of exchanging document and sharing information across different formats, interoperability for documents in different formats implemented in different Office applications are becoming more and more important and challenging as well. Some of the big challenges we face in supporting interoperability are:

1. Multiple standards and formats. E.g. ODF and MS Office format.

2. Different interpretation to specification due to standard ambiguities. E.g. some default values are not defined explicitly in specification.

3. Implementation difference or limitation.( functional subsets or functional supersets )

The following are approaches we are taking to meet the nature of the challenges:

1. There are different features set defined in different standards or formats, direct mapping may not exist for some of features, e.g. graphic in text box, text box can contain graphic in MS Office format but not allowed in ODF, in this case we translate the text box into frame while do conversion. The goal is to keep the meaning of content same even though it may look different for some cases.

2. As to XML based open standard document format , we work proactively in standard committee to address interoperability issues in specification to ensure interoperability between different vendor implementations. As an example, we join the work in advocating and supporting the formation of ODF Interoperability and Conformance (OIC) TC, we have been working within the TC on building ODF test suites as implementation reference. We also submit the proposals and get accepted in ODF TC while developing new features not in ODF specification to ensure that document generated conforms to standard.

3. With regards to non open standard document format, we have been focusing on improving native filters that does the mapping to ODF format, for example, the MS Office native filter, Lotus SmartSuite native filter. We keep striving for better interoperability. We have made improvements in each release focusing on most commonly used objects.

Since MS Office format is widely used today, interoperability with MS Office has been one of our top priorities. We have done the following enhancements in previous releases :


      Word, Excel file encryption/decryption ( coming release this quarter)

      OLE support - Convert Office OLE into Symphony OLE if MS Office is not installed


      Enable Pivot table support ( coming release this quarter )

      Enable Data validation

      Enlarge row limitation from 32768 to 65535

      Chart enhancement

      More chart type support, like XY scatter chart

      Support discrete data source in Excel document


      More advanced word table support

      Complex table merge and split

      Table embedding

      Table row crossing page

      Numbering&bullet enhancement

      More bullet style support

      Better numbering&bullet formatting

      More consistent numbering display ( coming release this quarter )


      Enable PPT table support

      Enrich PPT animation effects

Now we are working on plan for next few releases, here are candidate items :

   MS Office VBA support

   Word/Powerpoint content layout improvement, such as line spacing, character spacing, fly objects position etc

   Excel chart enhancement, including more chart support types, char rendering effect

   Robust font information parsing and mapping

   Better graphic rendering quality ( EMF format enhancement )

We would love to hearing from you on prioritization. Your feedback and suggestions will be appreciated very much!

The move of Lotus Symphony to the 3 code base, and more importantly, having Lotus Symphony based on the current code trunk going forward, is the first step. We will see more pressure for full ODF and OOXML support, not the current implementation of ODF or the Office 2007 file formats, over the next 12 to 18 months. We as consumers of these products must demand full support of the file format - not the custom implementations out there today.