November 21, 2005 2:17 PM PST

Microsoft to standardize Office formats

Microsoft intends to submit file formats for its new Office 12 applications to the European standards body Ecma International. The company hopes this will allay concern about its level of control over document formats.

Microsoft, which dominates the market for desktop productivity software, plans to provide the specifications of Office 12 file formats to Ecma early next month. In addition to Microsoft, the technical committee is being sponsored by Intel, Apple Computer, NextPage and some European customers, including British Petroleum and the British Library.

The creation of a fully documented standard derived from the formats, called Microsoft Office Open XML, will likely take about a year, Microsoft executives said. Once Microsoft Office Open XML is recognized as an Ecma standard, the group of companies then intends to pursue standardization at ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, which is particularly influential among government customers.

"Moving to standard as an open standard will place a level of trust on the technology that will give people the confidence to get behind it," said Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft's information worker strategy. "We look forward to the day when people look at this as a milestone, as the beginning of the end for closed documents."

Ecma is a Geneva-based standards organization which issues standards and recommendations. Microsoft has submitted other software to Ecma for standardization, including programming languages EcmaScript and C#.

As part of its standardization effort, Microsoft will change the license to entice software developers to work with the file formats. "We're taking an approach that's basically a promise from Microsoft not to sue developers," said Yates.

Microsoft has already made the specifications for the XML document formats in Office 2003 available on a royalty-free basis. Office 12, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2006, will save documents by default in the Open XML format.

A representative of Sun Microsystems, which competes with Microsoft in the desktop software market, said that it's unclear whether the licensing that Microsoft adopts will allow open-source developers to use the Office Open XML formats. The representative also questioned whether the Ecma committee will, like other standards bodies, take significant contributions from several companies, not just Microsoft.

Similarly, an IBM representative said that the company is awaiting more details on Microsoft's plans, specifically in regard to any intellectual property encumbrances, open-source licensing, and proprietary extensions.

"It is our hope that in the coming days, Microsoft will provide additional important details which will serve to clarify their position," IBM said in a statement. "Specifically, does this announcement represent a true commitment to openness?"

Many customers, notably government agencies with long-term record archiving needs, have pressured Microsoft to make its document formats available on favorable terms. With access to these technical specifications, customers are assured that documents can be read by many different products, according to Microsoft.

The British Library on Monday lauded Microsoft's move.

"It's an important step forward for digital preservation and will help us fulfill the British Library's core responsibility of making our digital collections accessible for generations to come," Adam Farquhar, head of e-architecture at the British Library, said in a statement.

Dueling office format standards

Despite Microsoft's active embrace of XML-based file formats and work with government customers, the commonwealth of Massachusetts--in a high-profile and contested case--decided to adopt an XML-based format called OpenDocument, or ODF. The decision was driven in large part because OpenDocument is developed by a multiparty standards organization, rather than a single company, according to state officials.

Some of Microsoft's foes have rallied behind OpenDocument, including IBM, Sun, Novell, Adobe Systems and Google. Microsoft plans to accommodate OpenDocument formats in Office 12 through third-party products rather than native file format support.

Microsoft's Yates said that OpenDocument and Microsoft's Open XML formats both address productivity applications but have some differences. He said his company's formats are designed to be thoroughly compatible with all existing Office formats and to integrate XML-formatted data from other applications.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), the standards body behind OpenDocument, has already submitted OpenDocument to ISO for standardization.

Based on Microsoft's previous Ecma standardization efforts, it's not clear that Microsoft will relinquish control of the Office formats to other companies, said Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

He noted that Microsoft submitted its C# and Common Language Runtime software to ECM, and both are used by the open-source project Mono. But Mono "is eyed warily by Microsoft," he said.

"It's interesting that Microsoft would feel compelled to make this move but at the end of the day, it's still a format controlled by a single commercial entity," O'Grady said.

See more CNET content tagged:
ECMA, Office 12, standards body, XML, Microsoft Office


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Kudos for Microsoft!
...for not being coerced into the so-called OpenDocument standard being promulgated by the open source fanatics or thugs on the loose in the Massachusetts state government and elsewhere around the world. More specifically, I hope they successfully snub those socialist oriented OS elitists in Europe. They are bad for business.
Posted by (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The last thing we want is freedom and open standards like the Internet. Otherwise documents would flourish and innovate like the Web.
No we need the limitation of one company owning the standard, that way Microsoft get the money and we get less innovation.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Link Flag
You seem confused or perhaps overcome by emotion.

OpenDocument *is* an actual standard and has been recognized as such by a standards body. The use of the term "so-called" only calls into question your ability to perceive what is actually happening here. M$ file formats are a "de facto" standard, meaning that they dominate the field by their overwhelming presence and not with regard to established and agreed upon standard practices and procedures in the field.

As to open source fanatics or thugs on the loose in the Mass. government you may safely ignore them. They are not in power (anywhere) nor will they be, your imagination excepted. As to who may be in charge of the rest of the world, worry about that once you discover what's going on near you and expand out from there. Here again, you don't seem to be in touch with how businesses or governments set rules by which to operate. It isn't by calling names and making unfounded assertions ; that is just the public face of business and government, not it's internal workings. It is by setting procedures, requirements and policies and ensuring these are complied with in order to achieve their goals.

"More specifically", who in the world are you particularly referring to with the phrase "those socialist oriented OS elitists in Europe"? It seems to lack any kind of specificity much less an actual referent that may be pointed to as something well known.

I *am* happy to see M$ bending to the standards setting process by submitting their file formats to ECMA (while at the same time trying to make an end run around the ISO standards setting process.) It points out that they are finally beginning to see that they may rule the software world, but not the actual world and must protect their interests by learning to play well with others.

It remains to be seen if ECMA will tolerate their usual practice of not *fully* documenting how things work or breaking established standards by changing how their product works so that others will not interoperate and thus be locked out of the Windoze world.

>>They are bad for business.<<

Presuming that you aren't referring to Microsoft, business is actually commerce in general, not just the benefit accrued to one particular company. Especially not just one particular company in one particular country in the entire world no matter how much you may like it.

On the plus side if you just stay focused on this everything else will be safe from your potential influence. (o;
Posted by Lynn_S (52 comments )
Link Flag
I imagine you also support "Intelligent Design"
taught as an alternative theory in Biology.

What do you have against standards?
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
> ...for not being coerced into the so-called
> OpenDocument standard being promulgated by the

OpenDocument gets standards stamp
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

OASIS submits OpenDocument as standard
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

"Late last month, OASIS said it had submitted the OpenDocument specification to the Electrotechnical Commission's Joint Technical Committee at ISO (ISO/IEC JTC1) for approval as a standard"

&gt;open source fanatics or thugs on the loose in
&gt;the Massachusetts state government and elsewhere
&gt;around the world. More specifically, I hope they
&gt;successfully snub those socialist oriented OS
&gt;elitists in Europe. They are bad for business.

Why do standards have anything to do with sosialism? Or elitism? Why is a standard bad for business?

You probably still use feet, miles, gallon, 12h clocks and other non standard stuff in all your applications. Try sell it outside the US ...
(Is there a world outside The US?)
Posted by sandved (2 comments )
Link Flag
William, your comments were quite sad. To see
you lash out at something (in this case ODF)
just because it is 'non-Microsoft' and for you
to describe it so derisively means that your
argument is merely dogmatic. Perhaps you can
explain to us why something so obviously in your
own best interest could be so bad.

Luckily for you, OpenDocument is not going away.
Perhaps this doesn't leave you all that happy,
but it should. In the final analysis, who do
you think has ultimate control over the
documents you create with your Microsoft suite?
Do some research, the answer might surprise you.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Hands Off To Microsoft...
... "for not being coerced into the so-called OpenDocument standard being promulgated by the open source fanatics or thugs on the loose in the Massachusetts state government and elsewhere around the world"; more particularly, all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that "do not" have to adhere to the regulations of banks in the region with "their overwhelming presence and (do) not (operate) with regard to established and agreed upon standard practices and procedures (Internal Rate of Return -- IRR; Economic Rate of Return -- ERR) in the field" of banking (commercial as well as developmental; Re: The hemisphere's largest financial institution -- The Inter-American Development Bank: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> ) during the submission processes prior to Decision-Making Practices by financial institutions such as the IDB. OpenDoc in Warp 4.0 and OpenDocument Standard by the OASIS Group -- what an effort by so, so, sooooooooooo.............. many in futility? I think not!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Link Flag
Sarcasm doesn't translate well online
It's difficult to tell if you're being sarcastic or serious.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
Why are you using an Open Standard (HTTP)??
You should be ashamed of yourself for not using some proprietary standard! Surely, there must be some MS or IBM invented thing that you could use on the niternet? One that works only between MS or IBM devices.

Do not mix up "open standards" and "open source". There is no relation except that open source _tends_ to rely on open standards more than other entities.

In short, socialism has not much to do with Open Standards (like TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, FTP, etc)
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Matters Not; The Foundation for "default in the Open XML format...
... for "the i-n-t-e-r-n-a-t-i-o-n-a-l f-i-n-a-n-c-i-a-l and e-c-o-n-o-m-i-c a-n-a-l-y-s-t" (Duh!) was already laid by Club OpenDoc and integrated in, (OpenDoc in Warp 4.0) see links:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

How about letting the folks on "Wall Street" voice their (independent) views on these OpenDocument Standards issues!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop
Microsoft has used statements like they have removed "virtually all
the barriers" many times in the past. But they normally leave
enough hooks in the bait to prevent open source software from
using the software.

When MS adopts OpenDocument, THEN I'll believe they want to
work with the rest of the world. Until then I won't be holding my
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Could be a stretch
I thought I saw somewhere that Office 12 is suppose to be able to save documents as PDF. If I am wrong about this then the rest of this post is void. However, if it is true and PDF is or going to be OpenDocument compliant then M$ has performed one of there classic moves. They let the competition do the work then take the idea. Why should they adopt a standard when they can let someone else work on one then have two standards (given the ECMA accepts OpenXML) in one application suite?
Posted by VI Joker (231 comments )
Link Flag
The Whole Question is....
... with the American "Auto" Industry (GM - 30,000 soon to be laid off) under severe pressure from external economic forces... Microsoft needs to level with other players on its "Home Turf" (IBM, Sun Microsystems and others) and through the adoption of Open Standards like the OpenDocument Format a level playing field will be presented to all the players in the industries around the world. Those "socialist oriented OS elitists" that were referenced in an earlier post may very well turn out to be the Western Hemisphere's own. IT "Workers Unite" for OpenDocument Standards, the GM Workers and others around the world!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Usual tricks
Microsoft is being little pricks again with its usual tricks.

First and biggest problem is that they have lost trust - and even its friends are only friends-of-money. It will cost significantly less to support ODF than to get their formats a semblence of standardization. Ecma's website seems to say nice fuzzy warm things about not having patent encumberances and has a "code of conduct" but we are talking about a convicted monopolist here, so what's to stop MS from violating some toothless code of conduct by changing the rules?
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.