As an IT pro, your biggest concern when considering alternatives to Microsoft Office is probably making sure the alternative product can access data in existing Office documents and in documents from business partners. Office supports two groups of file formats. The ones we're all familiar with (.doc, .xls, and .ppt) are proprietary, binary formats. Office also supports a set of XML-based formats called WordprocessingML and SpreadsheetML for Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel documents and will be adding an XML format for Microsoft PowerPoint in the next release of Office (which will contain new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). This upcoming release, currently know as Office 12, will use these XML formats by default. (Read more about Office 12 in "Office 12 Will Use XML by Default" in Windows IT Pro's "As We See IT" blog, InstantDoc ID 46566.) Because Microsoft's XML formats are well-documented and free for developers of competing products to use, they might provide greater compatibility between products and allow some users to switch without sacrificing their existing data or losing the ability to share documents with Office users. Until Office 12 is released, though, those who want to switch will have to take their chances with WordPerfect's and OpenOffice.org's ability to access Office binary files.

OpenOffice.org 2.0 will also use an XML-based file format called OpenDocument. OpenDocument is licensed similarly to Microsoft's XML office document formats, and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) approved it as a standard earlier this year. OASIS approves its standards by committee vote, and committee membership is open to the public. Although Microsoft's file formats are licensed to ensure that other programs can continue to use them, changes to Microsoft's standard remain tightly under Microsoft's control.