Microsoft feeling the heat from one open standard for Office
documents, is championing another.
The company is submitting its Microsoft Office Open XML file
format to Ecma International as an open-standard submission with the
hope it will one day become an International Organization for
Standardization (ISO) standard.
The file format is the underlying document standard to be used in
the next edition of Office.
Additionally the company is moving the schema away from its
royalty-free licensing to a simpler "covenant not to sue" to garner
more support from the community, Brian Jones, Office program
manager, noted in his blog.
"This is obviously a huge step forward and it really helps to
increase the value of these document formats because of the improved
transparency and interoperability," he stated. "This will help to
create a large ecosystem built around these formats that will
support them in a large number of different scenarios for
Joining Microsoft in the standards push is
Apple Intel BP, the British Library, Toshiba, Barclays
Capital, Essilor, NextPage and Statoil ASA. The group will
co-sponsor the file format and form the core team of a technical
committee within Ecma International with other members free to join
In addition to getting community and industry support, Microsoft
wants to create an environment similar to Adobe's near-ubiquitous
Microsoft intends to provide 100 percent backward capability to
all previous versions of Office in the new version, as well as
add-ons to existing editions, starting with Office 2000, to open
Office Open XML documents, the company said.
Laura DiDio, a research fellow at the Yankee Group, said that
while people might be skeptical of this latest move by Redmond, it
is a good one. It gives the company more say in what's accomplished
in the standards process, she said.
"Basically, they have to do this," she said. "They might not want
to do it because there's always that fear at Microsoft -- or with
any proprietary vendor -- that, 'if we integrate we're going to be
subsumed,' but that's not how people look at it. End users and
developers want to go in there and say, 'we need to do what we want
to do. We don't care about the vendor wars.'"
She said the developer community is going to be watching this
standards process to see if Microsoft is really committed to a
stable, truly open schema. If they prove themselves, she said, you
can expect to see a lot of value-added applications using the file
"Your simple Office templates could be the front-end interfaces
with a lot of back-end enterprise applications and line-of-business
systems," she said. "All sorts of things could happen. You could
create things like invoices and you wouldn't have to train them on a
lot of proprietary, complex systems." This latest move has a lot to
do with recent events in the file format community.
The company was dealt a blow when the IT office for the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts opted for the OpenDocuments file
format as the default for any Office documents beginning January
The standard, ratified earlier this year, came out of the
Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards
(OASIS), of which Microsoft is a member. However, Redmond decided to
go outside to Ecma to gain status as an industry standard.
According to an online question-and-answer piece, Jean Paoli,
Microsoft's XML architecture senior director, said Ecma has been an
industry association since 1961. Of Ecma's 350 published standards,
he stated, two-thirds have gone on to be adopted as an international
Microsoft has worked with Ecma in the past as well, he noted,
helping with the adoption of ECMAScript, C# and the Common Language
Infrastructure (CLI) as standards.