Today we are making a really important announcement about our XML formats. We are going to bring the Microsoft Office Open XML formats to a standards body with the intention of eventually making the formats an ISO standard. This should really help everyone feel certain that these formats will always be available and fully accessible. We are going to work with Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba to form a technical committee at ECMA International that will fully document all of our schemas so that anyone can understand how to develop on top of them. This is obviously a huge step forward and it really helps to increase the value of these document formats because of the improved transparency and interoperability. This will help to create a large ecosystem built around these formats that will support them in a large number of different scenarios for customers.

In addition to this move towards standardization, we are also going to make some changes to our licensing approach. I've definitely heard the concern from folks over the past few months around the licenses. We want to make this issue much simpler as well as address the core concern, which was that some folks thought we might somehow sue people for using the formats. Obviously we don't want anyone to have that concern, so in order to clear up any other uncertainties related to how and where you can use our formats, we are moving away from our royalty free license, and instead we are going to provide a very simple and general statement that we make an irrevocable commitment not to sue. I'm not a lawyer, but from what I can see, this "covenant not to sue" looks like it should clear the way for GPL development which was a concern for some folks.

As I've been saying for the past 6 months, our goal with these formats was to open them up so that anyone could build solutions on top of them. We see this as a huge opportunity for Office to play a more vital role in business applications. It's something that we benefit from and so do our customers and partners. I posted about this a couple months ago, and if you're interested you should go back and read that post (http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2005/09/29/475340.aspx). Here are two points I really want to stress:

  1. It has always been our goal to make customer data in documents more valuable to them. By working with customers and partners at ECMA, we can continue these efforts to build out the Office ecosystem and help our customers reuse their XML data across systems and applications. This effort also opens up a lot of opportunities for us as well as commercial opportunities for other companies.
  2. Some customers, particularly in the public sector, have been telling us that they would like us to take this step. They are focused on the long-term management and archiving of digital records and want to use our document formats. They have told us that they would like to see us pursue this step as a measure of goodwill toward them and their interests and we are now following through on their request.

At the XML conference last week, there were a number of folks I talked to who had already done a lot of work with the 2003 XML formats. With the work we'll do in ECMA, we are guaranteed to have a first class specification that fully describes every detail of our formats. In addition, we'll provide plenty of tutorials, best practices, and all kinds of tools to help folks work with the formats. We released the Beta 1 for Office '12' last week and we're already starting to receive a ton of great feedback.

I'll talk a lot more about both the license change as well as the standardization effort over the coming months. It's something I'll obviously stay heavily involved with and I'm really excited about it. I hope you are too.

-Brian