Microsoft Seeks Open Standard for Office 12

In an apparent move to cater to governments, Microsoft today said it is taking steps to offer the file format technology behind Word and Excel to customers and the industry as an international standard.

A large group of co-sponsors, including Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba, will submit Microsoft’s Office Open XML to Switzerland-based standards organization Ecman International.

Microsoft also said it would make available tools to enable old documents to capitalize on the open standard format. The move will benefit the broader software ecosystem, according to Microsoft, because software and services vendors worldwide will be able to more easily build compelling solutions that interoperate across a broad spectrum of technologies.

“We are committed to open standards such as XML to provide the highest levels of interoperability between legacy and next-generation software,” said Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International. “The creation of an XML file format standard is a major industry milestone. We hope this will provide both users and organizations with the peace of mind that they will be able to access their past and future documents for generations to come.”

Joining Forces?

Apple, among others, has agreed to work with Microsoft as part of an open technical committee to standardize and fully document the Open XML formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint from the next generation of Office technologies, code-named Office “12,” as an Ecma standard.

The group also plans to help maintain the evolution of the formats. Apple and other members will ask Ecma to submit the results of their collaboration to the International Organization for Standardization for approval.

“Apple is pleased to support an Ecma standard for Microsoft Office Open XML document formats, which will make them more open and widely available to all,” said Philip Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing at Apple. “Apple and Microsoft will continue to work closely together to deliver great products to Mac users and application developers for many years to come.”

Apple’s Co-Dependency

Apple and Microsoft may have a history of rivalry, but Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle told TechNewsWorld that they are friendly where Office is concerned.

“Microsoft Office is the productivity package for the Apple platform, at least for business. It’s the only thing that Apple really has that addresses business requirements,” Enderle said.

“If Microsoft were to suddenly pull off the Apple platform, then whatever small hold Apple has in business would probably evaporate,” he continued. “Also, Apple recognizes, as Microsoft does, the risk associated with Linux and the rest to their model.”

Thousands of Documents at Stake

Microsoft boasts thousands of documents created every minute in an Office format. The company said more than 300,000 developers have utilized the XML file formats in Office 2003 editions alone.

Microsoft said those documents will be able to take advantage of the benefits of the new open standard, enabling document contents to be accessed, searched, used, integrated and developed in new, innovative ways.

Microsoft said customers, technology providers and developers around the globe will be able to work with the Open XML file formats without barriers, creating a broad ecosystem of products, applications and services that can work with the formats, with or without Microsoft software.

Does Microsoft Have a Chance?

Of course, all that will happen if the standard is approved. The question is does Microsoft have a chance of obtaining that approval? There is already an open document standard, and one that readily accepts.

“It’s tough. The way the open standard effort has been driven so far has been sort of anti-Microsoft,” Enderle said. “That makes it difficult for them to come in now and get the same body to accept a standard that they are proposing.”

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