Response to Commonwealth of Massachusetts RFI for ODF plug-ins or convertors

In June 2006 3BView submitted the following response to the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD)  request for information RFI 06-1.

The information contained in this response does not imply any contractual obligation to provide software product or services.

Introduction

This document provides 3BView Ltd's responses to the Request for Information RFI 06-1.

3BView Ltd (3BView) is a software product company specializing in document transformation and security. Founded in 2004 the directors alone have over 30 years of experience in the document transformation and management market.

The company, since inception, has utilized OpenOffice.org as a key component to its product set and has followed the work of OASIS and the corresponding interest and uptake in the use of the OpenDocument format (ODF). Shortly after the release of OpenOffice.org 2.0 3BView provided full support for ODF conversion and security within its products and released 3BOpenDoc, a product specifically designed and configured to automate the conversion to and from ODF.

3BOpenDoc is a server based product that can, out of the box, convert documents as they are emailed. In addition to this 3BOpenDoc is currently being extended to integrate with Document Management Systems.

3BView have investigated various ways of adding an ODF import and export facility to Word. However, with the complexity of the problem and the current state of Microsoft Word we cannot recommend this mechanism at this time. 3BView recommends providing each user with a native format document, and transparently converting documents on the server. This provides a far superior end-user experience with very low administrative requirements.

Responses

Existence of Parties, Projects, and Status

A. What is the present state of efforts to create ODF plug-ins or converters for Microsoft Office, whether undertaken by respondent or others through projects with which the respondent is familiar?

3BView Response: 3BView's product 3BOpenDoc is a server based office document conversion engine supporting the conversion of Microsoft documents to and from ODF. It is based on 3BTransform which has been on the market since 2004. 3BOpenDoc has been on the market since early 2006.

B. Whether an open source project, an independent developer, a vendor, or a group of vendors is currently developing, planning to develop, or interested in developing an ODF plug-in or converter for Microsoft Office 2000, Office 2003, and the upcoming Microsoft Office 2007, capable of reading and saving ODF documents. Please provide the identity of such open source project, independent developer, vendor or vendors, their address, names of principals, and a description of their experience in projects of similar technical difficulty.

3BView Response: 3BView was founded in 2004. Founders Martin Brown and Cathy Brode have a long history in the document management and control industry. Both formerly worked for CDC Solutions (now Liquent Inc), a software product company that specialized in document publishing. Contact details are: Martin Brown, CTO, +44 160 687 1110; Cathy Brode, CEO, +44 776 804 1174. The company address is Court Building, Alexandra Park, St Helens, Merseyside, WA10 3TT, UK

C: Who owns the intellectual property associated with current and planned efforts to build an ODF plug-in or converter?

3BView Response: 3BView owns the intellectual property for 3BOpenDoc. We also use third-party libraries under OpenSource and Commercial licenses.

Mode of Operation; Ease, Transparency, Economy of Use

D: Whether such a plug-in would be capable of exchanging textual (Word), spreadsheet (Excel) and presentation (PowerPoint) documents, whether in legacy or XML formats, to and from ODF, and rendering such documents using Microsoft Office.

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc is not a plug-in, rather it is a flexible server-based document transformation platform containing a number of conversion modules. One of those modules runs OpenOffice.org in a managed pool providing access to the full range of transformations provided by OpenOffice.org; not only MSOffice to ODF but also PDF, RTF, Text and the graphics formats.
Thus 3BOpenDoc automates the conversion of Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents to and from ODF.

E: Whether this exchange can be performed directly through the “File Open,” “File New,” and “File Save/Save As” menu options in Microsoft Office or their Microsoft Office 2007 equivalents, or whether a different translation mechanism would be required (please describe).

3BView Response: It is our view that a direct Microsoft Office plug-in would present many difficulties:

- The stability and reliability of the File menu integrations in Word, Excel and Powerpoint;

- A document does not stand alone - at a minimum it will have a template plus linked or embedded documents. Ensuring that these operate transparently would be difficult.

 

3BView suggests that, until Microsoft provides an ODF solution themselves, it is better to provide a working environment where everyone uses their native formats and documents are transparently converted as required by each user.

 
3BView's product 3BOpenDoc currently provides an email integration, whereby documents attached to emails can be transparently converted on the server. We are in the process of extending this to integrate with a variety of popular Document Management Systems, including the Open Source product Alfresco.

F:Whether the plug-in can allow Microsoft Office to save to ODF as the default format.

3BView Response: In our view Microsoft Office will not save reliably in a non-native format. We recommend saving in native format with transparent conversion to and from ODF.

G: What limitations, either in terms of fidelity of exchange, type of document, or user operation, should be anticipated for such a plug-in or converter?

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc uses OpenOffice.org - widely recognized as the product that is most compatible with Microsoft Word - to perform the conversion. You will get exactly the same fidelity from 3BOpenDoc as you would get by opening a Word document in OpenOffice.org. You may need to revise document templates so that they are compatible with both Word and OpenOffice.org, but if this is done then few fidelity issues are anticipated.
If 3BOpenDoc is deployed in our recommended configuration - providing each user with a native format workspace - then there are no user operation issues anticipated.

H: Against what ODF conformance standards would such a plug-in or converter be assessed?

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc conforms to ODF standard v1.0 as specified by OASIS. Any enhancements to this standard will be supported as they become available with OpenOffice.org.

I: What level of visual fidelity, onscreen and in print between Microsoft binary or XML formatted documents and ODF documents could be achieved?

3BView Response: The fidelity that can be achieved both onscreen and in print with 3BOpenDoc is the same as that available via OpenOffice.org.

J: How difficult would it be to install and use an ODF plug-in or converter?

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc is delivered with a full installation package. As it is fully server based only a single installation is required, that is, no client installation is required.

K: What training would be needed, if any, to correctly use the plug-in or converter?

3BView Response: As a server based product only the training of the administrator for 3BOpenDoc is required. If the email integration is utilized then this training can be completed within one day. If 3BOpenDoc is integrated into a Document Management System then training may take longer.

L: The contemplated mechanics of how such a plug-in or converter would be installed and would operate in practice. Diagrams and or screen mockups would be helpful in clearly describing the proposed solution.

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc is a server-based product designed to integrate with collaboration (groupware) servers. It includes an email-server integration; other server integrations are in development.
In the case of email, a user will send an email with an attached document as normal. This is intercepted on the 3BOpenDoc server and the attachment is checked against the rules for the email's destination. The attachment is then transformed as required, re-attached to the email and sent on.
Examples of transformations provided with the product are:

- Convert to MS-Word

- Convert to ODF

- Convert to PDF

- Clean metadata from the document

The transformation chosen can be based on the document format and on the data held in external databases. Thus 3BTransform can make intelligent choices about what to do with the document, based on individual user preferences or organizational requirements.
A similar process occurs when 3BOpenDoc is integrated with a Document Management System (DMS).
The DMS is set to process documents via 3BOpenDoc before passing them to each user. The precise mechanism used depends on the DMS; the documents may be processed in the background and stored as renditions or processed in real-time on user request. 3BOpenDoc is designed to be deployed in both situations.
M: What are the anticipated end-purchaser acquisition and maintenance costs for such a plug-in or converter?
3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc is priced on a per server per year basis. The cost is $2,000 per server per year which includes support and maintenance. Integration with a specific Document Management System will incur extra service costs.

Timeframes, Level of Effort, Resources, Technical Details, Risk

N: In what timeframes would such a plug-in or converter be completed, available for testing, and available for deployment? Please describe availability in terms of the following matrix, and please describe anticipated functional levels clearly:

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc is already available for use to convert documents to and from ODF as they are emailed. Without knowledge of which Document Management System might be used 3BView is not in a position to estimate availability of the product.

O: How many as-yet unspent person months on the part of respondent, or others through projects with which the respondent is familiar, would be involved in an effort to achieve the objectives outlined above?

3BView Response: Functional Level 1.0 is achievable now, with no further effort required.

P: What external (sponsor, investor, customer) resources that are not currently available or committed to the respondent would be necessary to achieve the functional release timeframes described above?

3BView Response: For 3BOpenDoc working with a Document Management System, the requirements of the customer will need to be understood. Input from experts in the Document Management System, either from the vendor or from specialist consultants may also be required. For 3BOpenDoc working with email an understanding of the customer's email system will be required prior to actual implementation.

Q: Describe the language in which such a plug-in or component would be written, and any tools that would be required to develop it, or extend its functionality.

3BView Response: The server is written in Java. It runs on J2EE webtier application servers such as Apache Tomcat and uses standard protocols such as HTTP. As such it is very easy to extend.

R: How much and what kind of cooperation from Microsoft would be required of a team creating an ODF translator plug-in that was very well integrated with Microsoft New, Open, Save, and Save As functions?

3BView Response: As stated above, 3BView does not recommend this approach.

S: What kind of technical information would the respondent require from Microsoft in order to successfully develop an ODF translator plug-in that was very well integrated with Microsoft New, Open, Save, Save As functions?

3BView Response: As with (R), 3BOpenDoc works as an automatic server based conversion tool and so does not require integration with Microsoft functions.

T: What level of effort and costs are estimated to support the plug-in on a going forward basis to maintain compatibility with the latest format versions over time?

3BView Response: All 3BView products are maintained on an ongoing basis. Costs are covered by the support and maintenance component referred to in response M. In the case of 3BOpenDoc, compatibility with the latest format versions is dependent on their support by OpenOffice.org.

U: What are the business, financial and technical risks associated with such a project?

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc is based on 3BView's core product 3BTransform and as such there is no business or financial related risks. Technical risks reside solely in the continuing development and community support of OpenOffice.org. This risk is mitigated by the fact that 3BOpenDoc can utilize other applications that support the conversion to and from ODF as the conversion engine if required.

V: Compare the level of effort for creating an ODF-translator that will work with (1) Office 2000, (2) Office 2003 and (3) Office 2007 (based on currently available information).

3BView Response: 3BOpenDoc already supports conversion to and from ODF for Office 2000 and Office 2003. 3BOpenDoc utilizes OpenOffice.org to perform the actual conversion to and from ODF. 3BView understand that it is the intention to provide support for the upcoming Microsoft Office 2007 within a future version of OpenOffice.org. Once support for Office 2007 is included in OpenOffice.org it will take 3BView 6 weeks to incorporate the new version on OpenOffice.org into 3BOpenDoc and test it prior to release.

General

W: Please provide any other information you believe to be important and germane to the purposes of this Request for Information.

3BViewResponse: No further information

 

 

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