Microsoft's Office Open XML format has been accepted as a standard by the heavyweight team of companies who comprise the membership of Ecma International.

Ecma International is an industry association founded in 1961 and dedicated to the standardisation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Consumer Electronics. Its members include Apple, Adobe, IBM, The British Library, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Toshiba and the US Library of Congress.

The move to accept the new Office Open XML as a standard means that Ecma will now submit the format to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for consideration as an ISO standard through the fast-track process.

It's a step that follows a year of testing by the organisation's membership to: "Help ensure that the Office Open XML Formats are highly useful and interoperable in a wide variety of scenarios," Ecma International said in a press release.

"Today's Ecma vote is a major milestone in furthering document interoperability — we believe customers will really appreciate the benefits that Open XML provides," said Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Ecma and the other contributors, extending our collaboration across the industry as part of the ISO certification process."

The Ecma committee TC45 made significant changes to the specification and produced over 6,000 pages of documentation on the formats to help developers work with the specification.

The Open XML Formats will eventually be usable across both Windows, Linux and (in 2007) Mac platforms. Over 750 developers have joined the Open XML Formats Developer Group.

There may be some dissonance among the Ecma membership. IBM vice president for open source Bob Sutor wrote: "We think the OpenDocument Format ISO standard is vastly superior to the Open XML spec. ODF is what the world needs today to drive competition, innovation, and lower costs for customers. It is an example of a real open standard versus a vendor-dictated spec that documents proprietary products via XML. ODF is about the future, Open XML is about the past. We voted for the future."

And in related news, Microsoft responded to criticism that it has not synchronised the release of Mac software to enable users of its Office software on Apple's platform to read the new file format with the release of Office 2007 to Windows users.

The delay makes it inevitable that some period in which some attempts to share Office documents between platforms will fail, serving to reinforce the myth that Macs and Windows systems are incompatible.

Microsoft's Mac Business Unit has now promised to repair its incompatible software with the release of a series of file converters to let older versions of Mac Office read the new format, probably by late March or early February.

WebPro News advises workers attempting to share files with Mac users in the interim to save two copies of each file, one in an older Office 2003 format.