Microsoft Opens Office File Formats

The Open XML document format is being considered for recognition as a formal standard by Ecma International.

Microsoft Corp. has decided to open up its Office file formats and has submitted the formats to be considered for recognition as a formal standard by Ecma International, which will develop the documentation and make it available to the industry.

A number of companies and organizations have stepped forward to co-sponsor the submission of the Microsoft Office Open XML document format technology to Ecma, including Apple Computer Inc., Barclays Capital of Barclays Bank Plc, BP Plc, the British Library, Intel Corp., Statoil ASA and Toshiba America Inc.

Following the controversial Massachusetts OpenDocument debate, the decision appears to be a direct move by Microsoft to prevent the potential loss of any further government and business contracts for Office.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about Massachusetts decision to mandate use of the OpenDocument format.

Opening the MS Office document format takes a step towards eventually ensuring that those customers who do not use Office will be able to work with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents without having to buy the software.

However, Microsoft said it will take about 18 months before customers, competitors and developers are likely to be able to download detailed files from Ecma on how to create a Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel document.

Microsoft will thus make tools available to enable old documents to capitalize on the open standard format. With Office document formats available as an open standard, customers will have even more confidence in their ability to store and manage data for the long term, with many more vendors and tools from which to choose.

Alan Yates, the general manager of Microsofts Information Worker Strategy, said Microsofts commitment to the standard and the long-term future of the Office open document standard was reflected in the license that would accompany it.

"The new license that will accompany the Open XML format with the standards organization will go well beyond traditional standards licensing and will be very positive for the vast majority of developers, even open-source developers," he said.

"We have gone further with this license, explicitly to widen the net for developers. Basically, it is a broad promise from Microsoft not to sue anyone for use of the formats. So that kind of broad, yet simple, promise from Microsoft will last well into the future and will appeal to all developers," Yates said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read David Courseys take on Microsofts open-format plans.

This would also make it easier for competing desktop application suites like Sun Microsystems Inc.s branded StarOffice and to be compatible with Office, he said.

The license will be posted to the Office XML Web site on Wednesday, along with additional information about the submission to Ecma International. With regard to the competing Ecma-approved Open Document Format for Office Applications standard, Yates said Microsofts standard would differ.

"You have to understand that the Open Document group wrote their specification to satisfy a certain number of customer requirements, and we have done the same. We have had a very different and much more ambitious set of requirements to meet. So we are meeting the requirements of backwards compatibility with all of the billions of documents that are in previous Office versions," he said.

"But we are also focused on the forward functionality and representing all of them in Office 12, in XML, and we have the ability in that product to integrate directly the XML data from customers information systems into and out of our Office format," he said.

Next Page: Open Document format promises longevity.