Microsoft opens XML schema for Office 2003

Microsoft Corp. launched a royalty-free licensing program on Tuesday for companies that want to access documents created using Office 2003’s XML-based file formats.

With the new program, companies and customers can incorporate the XML schemas – or the structural backbone – into their own software and improve the interoperability with Office documents, Microsoft said in a statement.

By licensing the schemas, royalty-free, Microsoft also said that it builds on its ongoing commitment to promoting the development of XML as the next-generation technology for integrating applications, services and data sources.

On its Web site, Microsoft released the schema for Word 2003 – called WordprocessingML. The schemas for other programs including Excel 2003 and InfoPath 2003 will be available on the Web site on Dec. 5, Microsoft said.

In the past, Microsoft has been highly criticized for its proprietary software and lately has been facing increased opposition as the open source movement continues to gain momentum.

One analyst sees the company’s latest move as a step in the right direction, but isn’t certain the program will make a difference.

“It does show [Microsoft] is making movement and it does show that they are clearly taking the right steps – it’s just a question if the market will see [those steps] as being big enough or not,” said Rob Enderle, a principal analyst with Enderle Group in San Jose.

At the end of the day, Enderle said Microsoft will never go completely open source because the company still needs to make money on its software and it still wants to control that software.

“The criticism [Microsoft] has taken is that because you can’t see what’s in that software, you are taking some type of a secret risk,” he explained. “They are trying to address that secret risk.”

What Microsoft has to do first is address its image problem, Enderle said.

If the company was a vendor that maintained a high level of trust, than this royalty-free licensing program would likely be enough, he said. “But because they don’t maintain a high level of trust, it’s very difficult for them to do anything short of full open sourcing and honestly, even if they did do full open source, people would still…distrust their motives.”

For developers, Microsoft said the licensing program opens more doors because through the licensing, program application can be more interoperable with Microsoft Office 2003. Microsoft also said the program will mean there is more readily available data identification within documents, ease of report generation and documents assembly from existing content, and extraction of existing data for automated processing.

In a statement, Microsoft said the impetus for the program came after discussions with the Danish government, which currently has access to the royalty-free licenses for the XML schema. The Danish government is looking to encourage enhanced exchange of information across the Danish public sector by creating a repository of XML schemas.

The Office 2003 XML reference schemas documentation and licenses will be available on Dec. 5, 2003 through the Microsoft Software Developer Network Web site at