OASIS at Work on Standard for Office Apps

Working group to create standard data format for office applications that will improve data interoperability across those applications.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, has established a working group to create a standard data format for office applications that will improve data interoperability across those applications.

OASIS, a not-for-profit consortium that drives the development and adoption of e-business standards, will announce on Wednesday the formation of the working group, known as the OASIS Open Office XML-Format Technical Committee.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s Michael Brauer will chair the committee, which includes representatives from Boeing, Corel Corp., Drake Certivo and Arbortext. Not on the initial list of initial technical committee members, however, is Microsoft Corp., although it is an OASIS member.

Microsoft Office and Microsofts other desktop office productivity applications account for more than 90 percent of that market. Simon Marks, a Microsoft office product manager, told eWEEK that the Redmond, Wash., company is not going to participate in the committee at this time.

"We certainly havent ruled out participating going forward, but at the moment we dont really see any benefits to our customers as we will have great XML support within Office 11," Marks said. "We will thus support anything this body comes out with because we already support anything thats based on XSD 1.0. So whatever they come up with will work with Office 11."

Simon Phipps, chief technology evangelist at Sun, said it would be better for the entire industry and all of their customers if Microsoft were to join in and support the initiative. "But were in a massively connected world and it is becoming less and less relevant what any individual company chooses to do, even if they do hold a monopoly today," Phipps said.

Once there is a widely supported industry file format, a wave of support will follow. "Microsoft is describing themselves as a changed company these days. Sun warmly invites them to participate, and we welcome their involvement and will ensure they play an equal part with the other committee members," he said.

But Marks said Microsoft feels the power of XML is the fact that it is "liberating" data from beyond documents, as too much data currently resides within documents that cannot be accessed.

The technical committee will initially focus on standardizing data for content creation and then go on to simplifying data exchange between any XML application and office productivity applications. That will include business process automation, Web services, databases, search engines and other applications.

Sun is also going to donate the XML file format specification utilized in the OpenOffice.org 1.0 project to the new OASIS technical committee as an input. "The way these standards committees work is they take an initial input, which is then evolved. This file format is a suitable starting point as its pure XML and fully specified by an open-source group," Phipps said.

An increasing number of companies are using proprietary formats and can only use a single-vendor platform for data. Accessing this often also uses brittle macro-languages built into the Web processing or Office tools themselves.

"They wanted a guarantee that their data would still be readable at an indefinite time in the future. So, with those three objectives in mind, the technical committees intent is to create a standard data format that uses XML and which is fully specified so there are no surprises about what does what in the format," Phipps said.

The committee hopes that other OASIS member companies with an interest in this area will join in and help to define the file format and then commit to supporting it in their products. "A standard method for processing and interchanging office documents will enable companies to own their data and freely choose the best tools to view and edit information long after originating applications have come and gone," Phipps said.

While participation in the technical committee remains open to all organizations and individuals, OASIS said contributions will only be accepted if they are granted under perpetual, royalty-free, non-discriminatory terms.

OASIS will also host an open mail-list for public comment, and completed work will be freely available to the public without licensing or other fees, the organization said.