updated 12/2/2005 7:20:39 PM ET 2005-12-03T00:20:39

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be having second thoughts about abandoning Microsoft software on state computers in favor of a rival open-source format.

Microsoft Corp. has pledged to standardize the document format for its Office software, undercutting much of the criticism that fueled Romney's closely watched plan to begin embracing a rival open-source format in 2007.

A spokesman for the Republican governor said Wednesday that Microsoft's attempt to win approval of its format as an international standard reduces the possibility that Massachusetts may eventually remove Office software from tens of thousands of government computers. MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

"If Microsoft follows through with their commitments, this will represent a seismic shift in their business model," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.

Some rivals and industry analysts say they will continue to cast a wary eye on a company known for closely guarding its proprietary technology.

Fehrnstrom agreed on the need for scrutiny of Microsoft's announcement last week that it would ask a Geneva-based technical group to declare the format behind a new version of Office an international standard, which could aid outside developers who write supporting applications.

Concerns about licensing restrictions and compatibility problems with Office software led to the development of a rival standard called OpenDocument format, which is compatible with Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice software and free products such as OpenOffice.

Romney had directed state executive offices to begin storing new records in OpenDocument format by Jan. 1, 2007, to ensure records can easily be read, exchanged and modified decades into the future.

That made Massachusetts the first state to directly challenge the market-dominating Office software. Microsoft hopes to stem the rebellion's spread to other governments and the private sector.

Frank Gilbane, of Bluebill Advisors Inc., a Cambridge-based computer industry consulting firm, said Microsoft's announcement last week "basically answers what all the technical people were complaining about."

Microsoft said in June that Office 12, the next-generation version due next year, would use a new format called Office Open XML that would make it easier for outside programs to read documents created in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

But it wasn't until last week that the Redmond, Wash.-based company announced it would submit the format to the standards body Ecma International _ a move critics had said was needed to lend credibility to Microsoft's statements that its new product would use publicly available software code that can be customized by outsiders.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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