Ecma International approves Office Open XML standard

Ecma International, a standards body, approved Microsoft Office Open XML as an Ecma standard today, Ecma officials announced.

At an Ecma general assembly meeting, the organization accepted the standard and agreed to submit it for adoption as an International Organization for Standardization standard.

Currently, the only ISO-standardized, Extensible Markup Language-based file format is the Open Document Format, a file format specification for text, spreadsheets and other office documents maintained by the open-source community. ISO granted international standard status to ODF this spring.

ODF was created as an alternative to proprietary formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

The Office Open XML and ODF specifications allow users to save records in a format that any standards-compliant application in the future will be able to read, regardless of the software that created the original document. Bowing to pressure from government leaders, Microsoft decided to make its Office products interoperable with ODF in July.

Among government users, Massachusetts has been leading the shift from proprietary to open formats.

Novell officials said Dec. 4 that the company’s OpenOffice.org office productivity suite will support the Office Open XML format to increase interoperability between OpenOffice.org and the next generation of Microsoft Office. The 2007 version of Microsoft Office also supports the Open XML format standard approved today by Ecma, Microsoft officials said.

The Ecma technical committee that carried out the work included representatives from Apple Computer, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Toshiba and the U.S. Library of Congress.

The committee “made significant changes to the specification and also produced more than 6,000 pages of documentation on the formats to ensure developers could work easily with the formats,” said Microsoft spokeswoman Ann Goldmann.

In January, Ecma International will begin a fast-track process for getting the Office Open XML format approved as an ISO international standard, according to Ecma officials.

“The Open XML standard recognizes the benefit of backward compatibility preservation of the billions of documents that have already been created while enabling new future applications of document technology,” said Jan van den Beld, secretary general of Ecma International.

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