Open XML Support Coming in Office 2013

Microsoft promises wider file format support in next version of Office suite.

Microsoft has promised wider file format support -- including, at long last, support for the Open XML standard.

The announcement came from Jim Thatcher, the principal program manager lead for Office standards, in a blog post, where Thatcher said that when released, Office 2013 will support "Strict Open XML and Transitional Open XML," "ISO 32000 (PDF)" and "OASIS ODF [OpenDocument Format] 1.2."

The file formats may not engender excistment, but contrast them to Microsoft's efforts to push its own proprietary document format scheme as an international standard that engendered strong criticism from enterprises, including IBM, which supported the alternative ODF approach. ODF for document formats used by a variety productivity suites, such as OpenOffice.org (acquired by Oracle and is now supervised as an Apache open source project) and IBM's Lotus Symphony, among others.

The standardization of document formats became an important issue as the world moved toward saving documents in electronic file formats. Although governments and other institutions need file formats that will last, and can't rely on the shifting fortunes of proprietary software companies, there was a major fight among software companies. Standards expert Andy Updegrove described Microsoft's full Open XML support announcement as bringing "closure to a seven-year-long epic battle between some of the largest technology companies in the world."

The ODF Alliance, an advocacy group for the ODF standard, claimed that more than 80 percent of resolutions proposed during the standards ratification process for Open XML weren't even discussed. Microsoft's Office Open XML had been fast-tracked for approval or rejection, but that drew complaints that the ratification process itself had skirted ISO/IEC rules, including delayed publication (the standard was eventually published in November 2008).

Even when the standard was released, not even Microsoft fully supported it in Office 2010. That suite used so-called "transitional Open XML," which didn't allow files to be saved in the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 standard format.

Thatcher claims that it was the ISO/IEC organization that created the dual "strict" and "transitional" Open XML standards. The strict version does not rely on Microsoft-specific data types, he explained. He said that Office 2013 now "provides full support for both variants of Open XML."

The Office update will also support ODF version 1.2, including Open Formula support in Excel 2013 and support for XML advanced electronic signatures (xAdES). xAdES is a World Wide Web Consortium effort to ensure digital signature authentication.

Microsoft plans to introduce a new feature in Office 2013 called "PDF reflow," which will let users open PDF files as "editable Office documents," according to Thatcher, who emphasized that the feature is not designed to replace Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat.  "The goal is not to make Word into a PDF reader or PDF editor. The goal is to help you to bring the contents of PDF files back into an editable format using Word 2013," Thatcher explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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