Microsoft announced it will take steps to offer the file format technology behind billions of documents to customers and the industry as an international standard. Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba will co-sponsor a submission to Ecma International, the standards organization, of the Microsoft Office Open XML (Extensible Markup Language) document format technology.

Furthermore, Microsoft will make available tools to enable old documents to capitalize on the open standard format. With Office document formats available as an open standard, customers will have even more confidence in their ability to store and manage data for the long term, with many more vendors and tools from which they can choose. The move will benefit the broader software ecosystem because software and services vendors worldwide will be able to more easily build compelling solutions that interoperate across a broad spectrum of technologies.

These global industry leaders have agreed to work together as part of an open technical committee that Ecma members can join to standardize and fully document the Open XML formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint from the next generation of Office technologies, code-named Office “12,” as an Ecma standard, and to help maintain the evolution of the formats. The group will ask Ecma to submit the results of their collaboration to the International Organization for Standardization for approval.

With thousands of documents created every minute in an Office format, Microsoft’s Office formats are used in dramatic numbers. More than 300,000 developers have utilized the XML file formats in Office 2003 editions alone. Those documents will be able to take advantage of the benefits of the new open standard, enabling document contents to be accessed, searched, used, integrated and developed in new, innovative ways. Customers, technology providers and developers around the globe will be able to work with the Open XML file formats without barriers, creating a broad ecosystem of products, applications and services that can work with the formats, with or without Microsoft software. As a result, documents and public records can be archived, maintained and maintained in perpetuity with long-term, widespread industry support.

“We are committed to open standards such as XML to provide the highest levels of interoperability between legacy and next-generation software,” said Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International. “The creation of an XML file format standard is a major industry milestone. We hope this will provide both users and organizations with the peace of mind that they will be able to access their past and future documents for generations to come.”

“We are pleased that Microsoft and its partners are making this submission to Ecma International,” said Jan van den Beld, secretary general of Ecma International. “Our members around the globe pride themselves in their ability to drive progress and consensus on important technologies.”

“Apple is pleased to support an Ecma standard for Microsoft Office Open XML document formats, which will make them more open and widely available to all,” said Philip Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing at Apple. “Apple and Microsoft will continue to work closely together to deliver great products to Mac users and application developers for many years to come.”

“We view Microsoft’s move to offer its widely deployed XML file formats for Ecma standardization as a very important and positive step forward for the industry,” said Renee James, vice president and general manager of the Software and Solutions Group at Intel. “We are pleased to participate in the Ecma submission and documentation process, and believe our customers will benefit from better interoperability and systems integration.”

“Just as our predecessors stewarded the development of the national published archive over the past 250 years, the British Library is committed to preserving and providing access to the U.K.’s digital heritage,” said Adam Farquhar, head of e-Architecture at the British Library. “We expect that establishing Microsoft Office Open XML as an open standard will substantially enhance our ability to achieve this. It’s an important step forward for digital preservation and will help us fulfill the British Library’s core responsibility of making our digital collections accessible for generations to come.”