With the open versions of its Office document formats receiving mixed reviews from standards bodies, Microsoft announced late last week that it would also open up its older, proprietary Office documents formats. This change is part of an ongoing bid to get the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) to accept its newer Open XML document formats as a standard.
As of Friday, the specifications for Microsoft's proprietary Word, Excel, and PowerPoint binary document formats (as used in versions 97-2007 of the products) were published to the Microsoft Web site. (They were previously available by request only, though few are aware of this.) Microsoft has also created a translator for moving documents between the older binary formats and the newer Open XML formats, which it has published on the SourceForge Web site.
As with the Open XML formats, the binary document formats are provided to the public under Microsoft's Open Specification Promise (OSP), which provides an open license for others to use the formats without fear of patent infringement or other legal issues. Thus, developers could use the specifications to make their own applications and services completely compatible with documents created by Microsoft's most widely used Office applications.
The big question, of course, is whether these moves will be enough to convince the ISO to standardize Open XML. Microsoft's new formats failed ISO accreditation during a fast-track proposal late last year, but the ISO will have a Ballot Resolution Meeting later this month to address the company's revised proposal. According to reports, national standards bodies that participated in last year's ISO balloting submitted over 3500 comments about the Microsoft bid, though once duplicates were removed, the number was closer to 1000. Microsoft's revised bid will apparently address every single one of those comments.