Microsoft says support for Open XML is growing

Open Office XML file format touts more than 300 supporters

Citing statements of support from more than 300 companies and organizations, Microsoft claimed on Tuesday that interest in its Office Open XML file format continues to grow.

Comments backing the file format, coming mostly from groups and companies outside the U.S., have been posted on a new Microsoft-sponsored Web site called Open XML Community.

In a blog posting, Office program manager Brian Jones cited other evidence of growing interest in Open XML, including more than 4 million downloads since last November of software that lets users of earlier versions of Office read and then write to Open XML documents created in Office 2007.

Jones wrote that the so-called Office compatibility pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 is the second most popular download on Microsoft's Web site, behind only Internet Explorer 7 for the Service Pack 2 release of Windows XP.

The existing compatibility pack supports Windows only. But sometime this spring, Microsoft plans to release similar software to enable users of all older versions of Office for Apple Inc.'s Macintosh systems to access Open XML files created in Office 2007 on Windows PCs. Meanwhile, an upcoming release of the Macintosh software, called Office 2008 for Mac, will use Open XML as its default file format.

Open XML was approved as a standard last December by ECMA International. The standards body then submitted the file format to the larger ISO standards organization in Geneva. The format currently is on a fast-track process for possible approval by the ISO as an open standard as early as August.

Earlier this week, a German standards body known as DIN announced the formation of a technical working group that will focus on defining how to make Open XML interoperable with the Open Document Format (ODF) for Office Applications, a rival file format supported by vendors such as IBM and Sun Microsystems.

Governments are a key battleground for Microsoft and ODF supporters. For one thing, national governments possess a vote within the ISO on whether to approve Open XML as an international standard -- a designation that ODF achieved last May.

Microsoft's dominance of the multibillion-dollar office productivity software market is attributed in part to user reluctance to voluntarily convert legacy files to other document formats such as ODF. But governments that adopt rules requiring their agencies to publish documents in free, open formats such as ODF -- and several already have done so -- could become a wedge that gives desktop application suites like Sun's StarOffice or its open-source offshoot a chance to break Office's monopoly.

The battle over file formats also has spilled into the state legislative arena in the U.S., where both Microsoft and IBM are trying to influence politicians crafting similar document format laws in states such as Florida, Texas and California.

To join the Open XML Community, applicants must "register" their support for the file format by filling out an online form and providing an optional quote that Microsoft is free to publish and distribute. They can also sign an online petition supporting Open XML that is aimed at ISO, although they aren't required to do so.

The new community site parallels another one created by Microsoft for developers that want to use Open XML in their software.

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