Microsoft Opens File Formats
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Microsoft has given a little more ground to the open document format push, offering to “take steps” to offer its proprietary file formats as “an international standard”.

Microsoft’s Office Open XML format along with conversion tools for legacy documents could become available as an open standard. The company has been under pressure from Government and large corporates who are becoming increasingly concerned at the proprietary nature of the Microsoft Office file formats to the extent that many have already standardised on Adobe Acrobat, which is perceived as more open.

Notably, the State of Massachusetts recently adopted a policy to move its document production and archival formats to the OASIS OpenDocument format in a move that could freeze Microsoft out of the State’s 70,000 desktops.

Microsoft has said it will offer the formats as a standard to Ecma International, which was formerly known as the European Computer Manufacturers Association.

Microsoft has bought in a number of other industry and user companies in on the submission. Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel, NextPage, Statoil ASA and Toshiba will co-sponsor the submission and work together as part of an open technical committee. The committee would also be open to other Ecma members.

Standardised, documented file formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint would be implemented in the next generation of Microsoft Office (Office 12) which is scheduled to reach market in late 2006.

The group would then ask Ecma to submit the results of their collaboration to the International Organization for Standardization for approval.

“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.”

“We are pleased that Microsoft and its partners are making this submission to Ecma International,” said Jan van den Beld, secretary general of Ecma International. “Our members around the globe pride themselves in their ability to drive progress and consensus on important technologies.”