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Microsoft Office named world standard

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KAI RYSSDAL: Most of us don’t really care how our spreadsheets or Word documents work, so long as they do, but then they hit our inboxes and that warning pops up telling us we don’t have the file formats to open them. Right about there you start cursing Microsoft, mostly because that’s the easiest thing to do. This week, the international group that sets file standards made Microsoft’s Office 2007 file format the world standard.

From the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Pubic Radio, Janet Babin tells us what the heck that means and why it matters.

JANET BABIN: The decision means we’ll all probably worry less about our electronic data. Martin LaMonica, with, says preserving old files can be a guessing game, especially for big companies and governments.

MARTIN LAMONICA: What happens if Microsoft goes away? What happens if Microsoft stops supporting that one file format that the country of Denmark chose a long time ago?

Upgrading can get expensive. The decision by the International Organization for Standardization will let software developers create programs that work better with Microsoft Office, but the decision also makes Microsoft more attractive to customers who prefer ISO-certified goods. Critics charge that Microsoft pressured governments to vote in its favor. Marino Marcich is with an alliance that created a format called OpenDocument. He says the ISO decision gives Microsoft Office a competitive edge.

MARINO MARCICH: Control of the format is really the key to the $15 billion Office enterprise, and Microsoft is hell-bent on controlling that format.

But a few years ago, the ISO approved the OpenDocument format.

DAVID BERLIND: There’s a saying in the information technology business that the great thing about standards is there’s so many of them, and in many ways this sort of makes a mockery of the standard setting process.

That’s editor David Berlind at Information Week. He says the two standards, Microsoft’s and Open Document, could stall innovation, because software developers won’t know which format to support.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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