In a bid to prevent the State of Massachusetts and other governments around the world from dropping Microsoft Office in order to move to a new open source document format, Microsoft revealed this morning that it will seek to standardize the XML-based document format it is creating for Office 12. The format, called Open XML, is being fast-tracked to standard body Ecma International, which should be able to certify Open XML as a standard by Office 12's late 2006 launch.

The surprise standardization move neatly sidesteps criticisms that Microsoft had refused to embrace the OpenDocument format, which is a competing open standard. Microsoft has agreed to support previous Office formats, Adobe's PDF, and Open XML in Office 12. But it has refused to support OpenDocument, despite warnings from Massachusetts and others that OpenDocument support would be required going forward.

The standards process will result in easier interoperability with competing products, including Sun Star Office, should the companies and organizations making those products choose to add that functionality. To date, most competitors have essentially reverse engineered Microsoft's formats in order to provide compatibility between their products. This has resulted in decent, but not perfect, compatibility.

Massachusetts Senator Marc Pacheco says that the state will consider adopting Open XML as well as OpenDocument, assuming Microsoft is able to make that format an open standard.