PARIS Nov. 22, 2005 — Microsoft Corp. today announced it will take steps to offer the file format technology behind billions of documents to customers and the industry as an international standard. Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba will co-sponsor a submission to Ecma International, the standards organization, of the Microsoft® Office Open XML (Extensible Markup Language) document format technology. Furthermore, Microsoft will make available tools 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 they can choose. The move will benefit the broader software ecosystem because software and services vendors worldwide will be able to more easily build compelling solutions that interoperate across a broad spectrum of technologies.
These global industry leaders have agreed to work together as part of an open technical committee that Ecma members can join 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, and to help maintain the evolution of the formats. The group will ask Ecma to submit the results of their collaboration to the International Organization for Standardization for approval.
Some commentary via Simon Taylor and Elizabeth Montalbano at PCWorld:
The development comes as a group of technology rivals led by IBM and Sun Microsystems are mobilizing a global effort to push the OASIS consortium’s Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) as a global standard format for these kinds of documents.
The effort was spurred in part by a highly publicized Massachusetts proposal requiring compliance with OpenDocument for government documents, which would mean the phasing out of Microsoft Office and its proprietary format.
Microsoft has been facing increasing pressure from governments and agencies that have insisted on standards compliance for their software. Microsoft executives confirmed that the move would help the company win contracts from public authorities that want software based on open standards.
However, a key supporter of OpenDocument and steward of OpenOffice, an open-source rival to Office, says Microsoft is using the move as an “end run” around having to support OpenDocument, which is backed by a host of vendors, including IBM, Apple, Google, Intel, Novell, Red Hat, and Sun. Companies can look at ISO standards, but they can’t use them to build their own applications, says Louis Suarez-Potts, community manager of OpenOffice.org and chair of the group’s governing council.
“With an open standard, any application can use it,” he says. “With an ISO standard, it’s not quite the same thing. It just means you have a reference for it.”
It frankly seems doubtful that this will defuse the open standards complaints.
Update: A Microsoft Q&A showed up.