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David Becker

Staff Writer, CNET

Sun Microsystems is backing European Union efforts to standardize office document formats, including a proposal that would enable people to switch easily between Microsoft-based documents and those created with open-source software.

In a recent letter to the European Commission, Sun President Jonathan Schwartz said he agrees with a recommendation by the EC’s Interchange of Data between Administrations unit to establish the format used by, an open-source productivity suite based on Sun’s StarOffice, as an international standard.

The proposal is one of the guidelines issued by the IDA in May to address growing concerns about the interchange of electronic documents.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards is already working on making’s handling of XML (extensible markup language) a standard, called the OASIS Open Document Format.

The IDA recommends going a step further and submitting the format to the International Standards Organization (ISO) for adoption as a global standard.

In addition to backing the ISO proposal, Schwartz noted in his letter that Sun representatives have promoted the idea to OASIS members.

“Note that since we do not control…OASIS, or ISO, we cannot promise success,” Schwartz wrote, “but we do not foresee serious obstacles at the moment, and I think we can be optimistic that the OASIS Open Office XML format will become an ISO standard.”

The IDA report also recommended that software makers create filters to allow XML-based documents created by one application to be read by another. Schwartz said it’s a good idea, and Sun will add filters to the next versions of StarOffice and to allow interchange of documents based on WordML and ExcelML, Microsoft’s respective word processing and spreadsheet dialects of XML.

“These filters will be available for adaptation and re-use by others in industry,” Schwartz wrote. “We intend to continue developing new interoperability filters for StarOffice and as we see new software releases from other vendors.”

Improved interoperability between StarOffice and Microsoft Office has been seen as one of the potential pay-offs from Microsoft’s historic $2 billion legal settlement and partnership agreement with Sun earlier this year.

A Microsoft representative said such filters would essentially be redundant for the company’s software, as Office 2003 can already read documents in any custom-defined XML schema, including those used by

Microsoft last year agreed to freely publish the XML schemas used by Office, an approach Microsoft executives have said addresses most interoperability concerns.

“We view the EU report as a validation of our investment in XML and our open, royalty-free approach,” Jean Paoli, senior director of XML architecture for Microsoft, said in a recent open letter to the EU.