Microsoft is trying to allay fears about its control over document formats by sharing the technology behind some new ones.
While the company’s Office suite of applications are still dominant in the market, Microsoft is facing greater document-formatting competition from the likes of Adobe and the emerging OpenDocument standard.
To try to convince users that they will not be locked into strict document formats once they buy its products, Microsoft plans to submit the file formats of its forthcoming Office 12 suite to European standards body ECMA International.
Microsoft said the standardisation process will be matched by its support for developers wanting to use Open XML, the technology behind the new formats, to develop other applications, with free Open XML licences being issued.
It is expected that Microsoft will provide technical specifications of the Office 12 file formats to ECMA early in December. As part of the initiative, a technical committee to consider the formats is being supported by Intel and Apple Computer, plus major users BP and the British Library.
Once the Microsoft Office Open XML technology is recognised as an ECMA standard, Microsoft is then expected to standardise the product with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
The ISO standardisation would be particularly significant as ISO standards are widely followed by public sector customers, an area which Microsoft has already experienced difficulty with in the US.
Office 12, which will be launched towards the end of 2006, will save documents by default in the Open XML format.
Office 12 will however offer native support for Adobe’s PDF format. Microsoft said that adding support for PDF creation in Office 12 to existing HTML- and Open XML-based native file creation will provide companies with more file and data management options.