Microsoft took a step towards creating an open standard of technology behind Word and Excel in a move to appease governments and ensure data in documents and accounts can be accessed in decades to come.
The submission of Microsoft's Office Open XML to the Switzerland-based standardization body Ecma is supported by Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corp., NextPage Inc, Statoil ASA and Toshiba.
"The European Commission, European member states and governments around the world have asked us to open up file formats, and we're going to do that," Alan Yates, business strategy manager at the unit that sells Office applications, including Word and Excel, said on Tuesday.
Government agencies, although not included in the initial list of supporters, were expected to endorse the move in coming days and weeks, Yates told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The move was announced in Europe, because "this is really a hotbed for standardization efforts, and it is where people appreciate what we're doing in greater detail," Yates added.
Microsoft has been in a long-running battle against antitrust sanctions imposed by the European Commission for abuse of its dominant Windows software. In March 2004, the European Union executive found Microsoft abused dominance of the Windows operating system so it could damage rival makers of work-group servers and media players. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)
Barclays Capital welcomed the move, because it could start mixing its massive amounts of financial and other data in different applications from many software vendors. "We won't be trapped in Excel and Word," said Stephen Deakin, director for information technology at Barclays Capital, adding it may even strengthen the position of Microsoft Office.
Microsoft's Yates hoped the move to standardize the Office Open XML (Extensible Markup Language) without charging royalties would build trust amongst companies and consumers who will use the standard in coming decades.
"It's a matter of trust. There's not the same level of trust in a technology owned by one company, as a technology in the hands of an open standards organization," he said.
Adam Farquhar, head of e-Architecture at the British Library, said the move would ensure digital archives would still be accessible to future generations.
Microsoft, Barclays and others expect Office XML technology to code and tag data will be developed further by many other companies after it has been approved as an open standard.
"This is the start of a great industry," Deakin said.