Microsoft said thursday that it will introduce new XML-based file formats for its Excel, PowerPoint and Word applications when the company launches its Office 12 software package next year.
Company officials said the move to replace Microsoft's traditional binary file formats with open-standards-based XML versions will allow companies using Office 12 to more easily access data across XML's various applications.
Microsoft pledged that the shift to XML will decrease the size of many individual files and make documents created in its Office products more resistant to corruption.
While Microsoft's Excel and Word programs already offer some XML compatibility, the new formats will bring those applications, and PowerPoint, into a "full fidelity" version of the standard, said Takeshi Numoto, senior director for the Microsoft Office System.
The biggest advantage of the new formats, Numoto said, will be their capacity to allow workers to access data from various documents without opening individual files, and to allow workers to use that information in new ways.
"You can dream of many scenarios to integrate documents with multiple back-end data sources and line-of-business sources," Numoto said. "You could have Excel connected to sales data on a back-end system. This is a situation where the line between content and data becomes blurred."
The company said the new files will be compatible with its existing documents, and promised that it will distribute a free downloadable "converter" that allows users of Office 2000 and later versions of its productivity software to work with the new formats. Customers will have the option to not use the new files in Office 12, but the XML formats will be set as defaults in the three applications when the package ships, sometime in the second half of 2006.
In addition, when a person using one of the new Office formats opens and edits a document created in the old system, the file will be saved in the format in which it was originally created in an effort to simplify compatibility. The file extension names for the new formats will add a letter "x" to Microsoft's existing naming conventions, such that a document created in Word will have the suffix ".docx" added to its title.
The announcement marks the latest effort by Microsoft to adopt XML throughout its business software lines, an initiative that has been maturing since the company first said it would license the XML-based file formats used in its Office 2003 release. More recently, the firm announced that it had committed in perpetuity to offering a royalty-free license of Office-related XML document formats.