Ecma confirms Microsoft's Office Open XML format as standard

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) - Microsoft has taken the next hurdle on the way to the rollout of its next-generation software package. The approval of Office Open XML (OOXML) as industry standard concludes Microsoft's often seemingly uncertain way towards a new XML file format and raises questions how the firm will approach the competing Open Document format (ODF).

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According to a press release issued by Microsoft, the General Assembly of the European association for standardizing information and communication systems, short Ecma, has approved the Open Office XML Formats as an Ecma standard in a session yesterday. The standard specification was brought forward by Microsoft as well as eleven other organizations - Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, NextPage, Novell, Statoil ASA, Toshiba, and the U.S. Library of Congress - and will now be submitted to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for consideration as an ISO standard through the fast-track process.

The new OOXML formats, which will be available in all Office 2007 core applications, including Word (WordprocessingML), Excel (SpreadsheetML), PowerPoint (PresentationML), aim to provide a more open approach to file formats and promise to increase the interoperability among documents. Microsoft has achieved quite a bit with the standardization of the format in a short period of time, given the 180-degree strategy turns the company took over the past year and certain format woes it still faces. The fact that OOXML would be included in Office 2007 hasn't really been in question over the past year, but the accessibility of the format is certainly more open than many would have expected a year ago. Microsoft states that Open XML will be an "open and royalty-free specification."

Besides OOXML, Office4 2007 will also offer support, via a detour, for ODF, which is a unusual development for a Microsoft in itself. In July of this year, Microsoft announced that it will support the development of a "bridge" that will enable Office 2007 users to open and save files in ODF, which has its origins in the open source community. Some may argue that a downloadable bridge for Office 2007 is a careful and half-baked approach, while other companies such as Corel will provide full support for ODF and OOXML right out of the box.

The finalization of OOXML marks the begin of a new stage for Microsoft in which it will have to determine and adjust its strategy towards ODF. No matter how you look at it, ODF remains a competing format, which as been sponsored especially by IBM, Adobe and Sun Microsystems, but also Intel and new best buddy Novell - both of which are participating in Microsoft's Open XML effort. Adobe may grow into a completely different problem for Microsoft: Adobe's chief executive officer Bruce Chizen recently threatened that he is evaluating options on how to deal with Office 2007's capability to export documents to PDF files. He did not rule out the possibility that Adobe will sue Microsoft over the feature.