Corel will add full support for Microsoft's Office Open XML format in an update to its WordPerfect word processing software.

The software vendor has been a strong exponent of the rival OpenDocument Format (ODF) but announced yesterday it would take a more neutral approach to the standards battle by offering in-built support for both.

ODF, backed by Sun, IBM and open-source software, is facing off against Microsoft's Open XML, which will be the default file format for the software giant's upcoming Office 2007 desktop applications suite. It has the potential to become a major format battle. Governments around the world are expressing interest in open-standard document formats to help them both ensure continued access to existing information and to ease their dependence on Microsoft Office.

Corel was one of the initial members of two groups set up in March to evangelize ODF - the ODF Alliance and the OASIS standards body's ODF Adoption Committee. Corel developer Paul Langille was also one of the original four authors of the ODF specification.

Corel arrived at its decision to support both ODF and Open XML over the last few months, according to Richard Carriere, the company's general manager of office productivity. He said the company wanted to meet the needs of both consumer and government users, with consumers looking to Corel to offer interoperability with Office 2007 and governments keen for the company to support ODF, he said.

As a small desktop applications provider with some 11 million active users, Corel needs to be flexible and so is unlikely to be able to afford to back one format over another. It's also still unclear which document format will win out or whether both will co-exist, Carriere said. "Companies and governments have not made a decision yet," he added.

Corel is announcing joint support plans as Microsoft prepares to launch Office 2007 Thursday.