The European Commission is caught in the middle of the latest standards battle between Microsoft Corp. and chief rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. This time its over XML.
At the XML Conference & Exposition here last week, Jean Paoli, Microsofts XML architect, said that despite competitors protests, Microsofts XML format has been accepted as open and standard.
Last week, the EC released a statement saying that Sun, Microsoft and IBM had "responded positively" to its recommendations on providing a standard method for use of documents and office-type software to ensure interoperability.
In its statement, the EC said: "Microsoft has also agreed with a recommendation that urged the company to issue a public commitment to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its WordML Document specifications. ... Microsoft also states that it will pursue actions to document the existing non-XML formatted elements of the WordML Document format in XML format."
Paoli said Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will comply by enabling its partners to develop what he called filters that would enable other applications to read and interoperate with the WordML format.
Competitors, however, are pushing for Microsoft to open up its proprietary XML format and Office suite or at least change from the proprietary way that it supports XML.
Paoli said Microsoft will not veer from its path with Office because of the number of users who have written documents using Office applications. He said that Microsofts support for XML is now baked into the companys infrastructure products as well as its presentation products and that Microsoft is the only company with a true end-to-end XML strategy.
For its part, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., last week said it had decided to support OASIS Open Office XML Format as part of its response to the commission.
Officials of Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., and IBM objected to Microsofts implementation. Karla Norsworthy, vice president of software standards for IBM Software, said IBMs view is that "if a government wants to insist that things they procure are standards-based, then the OASIS document format is one that we know is public and has support." Norsworthy said IBM will support both the Open Office format and Microsofts.
Some observers side with Microsoft for now. "Id say that Microsoft is actually in the right here. First, we have to understand that Microsoft is a commercial organization with technology that is proprietary, albeit very widespread and with significant standards support," said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, of Waltham, Mass.
"For Microsoft to give up control of this format would potentially significantly erode their competitiveness in the market—which I am sure their competitors [want]," Schmelzer said.