Microsoft plans to submit file formats for its new Office 12 applications to the European standards body ECMA International, in an effort to allay concern about its level of control over document formats.
The company will provide the technical specifications of Office 12 file formats to ECMA early next month.
The creation of a fully documented standard submission 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."
As part of its standardization effort, Microsoft will change the license in order to remove "virtually all the barriers" for developers working with the file formats.
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.
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 proposal in Massachusetts 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 as they 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.