OpenOffice, Oasis aim to create office standard

A standards body known for creating key technologies around XML (Extensible Markup Language) said Wednesday that it has launched an effort to develop a standard file format that would allow office documents such as spreadsheets and word processing files to be opened by applications from different vendors.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, has created a technical committee that will attempt to conform data stored in office documents to a standard file format based on XML, it announced Wednesday.

One of the goals of the group, called the Open Office XML Format Technical Committee, is to free corporate data from proprietary file formats so they can be accessed for years to come no matter what office software a company is using. Proponents contend that companies are currently saving data in proprietary file formats, such as those written in Microsoft Corp.'s Word software, and locking themselves into using that software indefinitely.

"This solves a number of problems for enterprises," said Simon Phipps, chief technology evangelist at Sun Microsystems Inc., which is an initial member of the technical committee. "It means that their data becomes machine readable without having to commit to a single vendor."

Corel Corp., which makes the word processing software Word Perfect, is also an initial member of the technical committee, and said it could benefit from such a standard. Other members include content management software maker Arbortext Inc. and The Boeing Co. Boeing has a stake in office document standards as it is bound by government regulations to create and archive an immense amount of data such as manuals.

OpenOffice.org, the open source project that developed the office suite of the same name, has contributed its published list of XML-based office file formats to the group, with hopes that it will help provide the foundation for a standard. OpenOffice.org's software is sold by Sun as StarOffice.

"Conceptually what they're talking about is very important," said Tim Bajarin, president of research company Creative Strategies Inc., in Campbell, California.

Creating an open office file format suggests that documents created in an application that supports that file format could be opened in other applications that support it as well. A document written using Corel Corp.'s Word Perfect, for example, could be opened in StarOffice without affecting the layout or formatting.

"In theory, that's the visionary goal of trying to go to a single set of file structures for documents," Bajarin said. "It's possible to do it; the problem is (that) in order for it to work, you're going to have to get a lot of cross-industry cooperation.

"That's a little less certain because you're going to have to get Microsoft to sign on to this," he said.

Microsoft, which dominates the office software market with its Office suite, is a member of OASIS. Microsoft is aware of the technical committee but will not initially take part, a spokesman from a Microsoft outside public relations firm said in an e-mail message Wednesday. The company has announced recently that the next version of its Office suite, Office 11, will be heavily reliant on XML.

Microsoft already supports an XML-based technology being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, called XSD, the spokesman wrote. "What this means is that anything the OASIS group comes up with that's based on XSD 1.0 will already work with Office 11," he wrote in the e-mail message.

Sun's Phipps said that more specific industry standards need to be agreed upon in order to allow companies to ensure that they will be able to share data in new and important ways, and access it years from now.

"All the document formats out there are proprietary and undocumented," Phipps noted. "That severely limits what you can do."

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