Microsoft has announced it will make its Office suite compatible with the OpenDocument Format (ODF), so Word, Excel and PowerPoint can handle documents in rival technology formats.

The decision comes in response to government requests from Belgium and Denmark, as well as the state of Massachusetts.

The software giant said that the next edition of Office, Office 2007, will include menu options for XML, ODF, and Adobe's PDF formats. A prototype of the first translator for Word has been posted on SourceForge.net under the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license, designed for open source use and revision of software without licensing fees.

A final version of the Word translator will be available in late 2006, with Excel and PowerPoint translators to follow in 2007, Microsoft said. The translators will be backwards compatible, and users will be able to download free compatibility packs for older versions of Office, although Microsoft did not specify what earliest version of Office it will support.

Microsoft had previously opposed ODF, with Office format documents still being the world's most popular. But the increasing acceptance of open-source software and formats, especially among governments has given Microsoft little choice but to include them to prevent people shifting to different applications.

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