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Microsoft Embraces Open Standards for Office

Office 2013 will provide full support for both variants of Open XML.

Microsoft's flagship productivity suite will move into conformity with open standards in its next release.

It's been a long time coming, and a move that's been applauded in the open-source community.

Microsoft announced last week that its next version of Office will have increased file format support, including the support promised years ago with the Open XML standard.

The announcement was made by Jim Thatcher, principal program manager lead for Office standards, in a Microsoft blog post on Monday. He indicated that Office 2013, when released, will support "Strict Open XML and Transitional Open XML," "ISO 32000 (PDF)" and "OASIS ODF [OpenDocument Format] 1.2."

Many may feel a bit sleepy on the mentioning of standards support, but it wasn't too long ago that Microsoft's efforts to push its proprietary document format scheme as an international standard drew cries of foul from other big players in the IT space, such as IBM, a supporter of the alternative ODF approach. ODF is an earlier approved international standard for document formats that's used in various productivity suites, such as OpenOffice.org (which was picked up by Oracle and is now supervised as an Apache open source project) and IBM's own Lotus Symphony, among others.

The standardization of document formats became an important issue as the world moved toward saving documents in electronic file formats. Governments and other institutions need file formats that will last, and can't rely on the shifting fortunes of proprietary software companies. But that circumstance didn't stave off a major fight among software companies. Standards expert Andy Updegrove described Microsoft's full Open XML support announcement as bringing "closure to a seven year long epic battle between some of the largest technology companies in the world."

The ODF Alliance, an advocacy group for the ODF standard, claimed that more than 80 percent of resolutions proposed during the standards ratification process for Open XML weren't even discussed. Microsoft's Office Open XML had been fast-tracked for approval or rejection, but there were plenty of complaints that the ratification process had skirted ISO/IEC rules, including delayed publication (the standard eventually was published in November 2008). Moreover, even when the standard was released, not even Microsoft fully supported it with Office 2010. That suite used so-called "transitional Open XML," which didn't allow files to be saved in the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 standard format.

Thatcher claims that it was the ISO/IEC organization that created the dual "strict" and "transitional" Open XML standards. The strict version does not rely on Microsoft-specific data types, he explained. He said that Office 2013 now "provides full support for both variants of Open XML."

Office 2013 also supports ODF version 1.2, including Open Formula support in Excel 2013 and support for XML advanced electronic signatures (xAdES). xAdES is a World Wide Web Consortium effort to ensure the authentication of digital signatures.

Microsoft plans to introduce a new feature in Office 2013 called "PDF reflow," which will let users open PDF files as "editable Office documents," according to Thatcher. It's not designed to replace Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat, though.

"The goal is not to make Word into a PDF reader or PDF editor. The goal is to help you to bring the contents of PDF files back into an editable format using Word 2013," Thatcher explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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