Microsoft offers developers Office XML schemas

Microsoft said Monday it will license for free its Microsoft Office 2003 XML (Extensible Markup Language) schemas, a move that will help outside developers enable other programs to trade data with Microsoft's Office applications.

The company released Monday on its Web site ( the schema for Word 2003, called WordprocessingML. In December it plans to release the schema for Excel 2003 and for InfoPath 2003.

The free licensing arrangement came about after discussions with the Danish government, according to Microsoft. The government is working on creating a Web-based repository of information about the schemas and standards used for its public databases.

Microsoft is often criticized for the proprietary technology tactics it uses to protect its desktop software dominance. Freely licensing the schema for Office 2003's XML implementation is a step toward settling some of the objections lobbed at the company by developers worried about Microsoft's ability to lock third-party applications out of communication with its Office 2003 applications.

Still, those objections aren't completely settled by the free licensing program: Since Microsoft, rather than an independent standards body, oversees its Office XML schema, the company could in future releases change the schema, breaking third-party implementations.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox hailed Microsoft's move as a positive and surprising step toward interoperability.

"Fully opening up and licensing the Office 2003 schemas creates the first crack in the productivity suite's proprietary file formats," he wrote Monday in a post on Jupiter Research's Microsoft Monitor Web log. "The company has more to gain by making Office an appealing, useful XML data creation tool. Interoperability is essential to this end, and puts Microsoft in the stronger position of selling Office on its features."

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