MS Office 12 to use open standards by default?

When Office 12 debuts next year, the default “save-to” file format of the applications will be XML. Or at least a version which Microsoft is calling Microsoft Open XML Formats.
A company exec was quick to note, however, that the new applications will also support the traditional binary .doc, .xl, and .ppt formats, but unless users designate otherwise, their work will save to the XML choice. The default format can be changed during or after deployment, Microsoft said. With this version of Office, PowerPoint is brought into the XML fold, along with Word and Excel.

Backward compatibility with current file formats is also important. If a Word 2000 user ships a document to someone on the latest Word, changes made by the recipient will automatically save back to the original application’s native file format. Thus the new Word will open even a Word 97 file and save information back to that format so it can be read by the originator.

He also reiterated Microsoft’s past pledges to publish its XML format specifications and schemas in advance of the product launch and them as royalty-free downloads.

The current Office 2003 allows users to save Word and Excel documents to its own WordML and SpreadsheetML (XML) formats. The new version adds PowerPoint to the mix. Numoto said those formats, as well as the upcoming iterations, are completely compliant with the XML 1.0 standard.

Granted, the cynic in me wonders how much MS will keep in line with what they’re saying. However, if this goes anywhere like I think it would, this could be a very good thing, especially as far as other programs like and WordPerfect having full MS Office compatibility. I’ve always believed MS should open the formats and compete on features, just like Adobe does with Acrobat and its PDF format. Like it or not, even though I use at home, I would be foolish to say the best office suite right now is anything other than MS Office.

In any event, it should be interesting to see where things go from here.