Ecma Approves MS Office Committee

International technology standards organization Ecma International voted Thursday to approve the creation of a technical committee to begin looking into standardization of Microsoft Office's Open XML document format. The effort has been backed by Apple, Intel and Toshiba.

The vote to create the committee would have been unanimous, however OpenDocument supporter IBM voted against the proposal while HP abstained. Critics outside of Ecma questioned the organization's move to standardize what they consider to be a proprietary format.

"There's no denying that Microsoft is a great strategist and extremely thorough in its execution, and therefore likely to succeed in its effort to produce an Ecma branded standard," Andy Updegrove wrote in the Consortiuminfo.org Standards Blog on Thursday. "The question is, when that standard comes out with the Ecma rubber stamp at the top, will the market adopt it to the exclusion of ODF?"

Others, such as the lobbying group CCIA publicly called for the proposal to be rejected as it did not "meet basic principles of openness."

Microsoft claims that by establishing the new format as an open standard, it is opening the door to third party developers who can implement Office Open XML in their own applications and services. Any member of ECMA could join the process, Microsoft says, and help to fully document the formats that will be used in the next releases of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

"Microsoft is extremely pleased Ecma International and industry leading companies and co-sponsors have accepted Microsoft's Open XML file format submission," Alan Yates, general manager Information Worker at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Ecma International's creation of the Technical Committee to produce a formal standard -- which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats -- means customers and the industry are one step closer to preserved interoperability."

But Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox warned in November that Microsoft has not yet detailed licensing terms for Office Open XML, and could place restrictions on the usage of its intellectual property.

"Submissions to a standards body don't ensure that any vendor could make use of the formats," Wilcox said. "For example, restrictions might prevent use of the formats in free software or where there are other licensing mechanisms, such as the GPL. Both circumstances could hurt open-source development around the file formats."

The first meeting of the Office Open XML technical committee is set to take place on December 15.

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