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Update: Microsoft to open Office document format

The move could spark a standards fight over document formats

By Elizabeth Montalbano and Simon Taylor
November 21, 2005 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Microsoft Corp. today said it will offer its Word, Excel and PowerPoint document formats as open standards, a move that could spark a war with technology rivals over standard document formats.

Microsoft said it would submit its Office Open XML document format technology to the International Standards Organization (ISO) to be adopted as an international standard in time for the launch of the next version of its Office software suite, code-named Office 12.

The development comes as a group of technology rivals led by IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. is mobilizing a global effort to push the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards 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 (see "U.S. state finalizes plans to phase out Office").

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.

"We have a few barriers [with government contracts]," said Alan Yates, general manager for Microsoft Office. "It will give governments more long-term confidence."

Louis Suarez-Potts, a key supporter of OpenDocument and steward of OpenOffice, said Microsoft is using the move as an "end run" around having to support OpenDocument, which has the backing of a host of vendors, including IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc., Novell Inc., Red Hat Inc., Google Inc., Apple Computer Inc. and Intel Corp. This is because companies can take a look at ISO standards, but they can't use them to build their own applications, said Suarez-Potts, community manager of and chairman of the group's governing council.

"With an open standard, any application can use it," he said. "With an ISO standard, it's not quite the same thing. It just means you have a reference for it."

Yates acknowledged that the move would help Microsoft compete against OpenOffice, an open-source rival to Office, though he said he believed that the company was already doing so effectively.

The decision also reflects pressure from the European Commission and member governments of the European Union. Yates said that Microsoft has been asked to standardize its formats. The issue has come up at series of meetings between company executives and EU government officials.

Microsoft is also planning to make available tools so that

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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