European standards body Ecma International expects to publish the final draft of the Office Open XML file formats specification proposed by Microsoft next Monday. This is well ahead of a formal vote to adopt the specification as a standard in December.

Governments are taking an interest in open-standard document formats as a way to guarantee access to legacy public information, and to avoid dependence on developers of proprietary software.

Denmark's government voted in June to mandate the use of open-standard document formats in central government from I January 2008. For now, five ministries are testing the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard, used in open-source software suite, and also in proprietary software including Sun Microsystems' StarOffice and IBM's Workplace. ODF is a rival to Office Open XML.

If ECMA approves the Office Open XML format, used by Microsoft in its forthcoming Office 2007 software suite, the Danish ministries could use that instead.

The French government is conducting a public inquiry into how to make its computer systems interoperable, but has reached no conclusions yet. However, in a report commissioned by the prime minister, National Assembly Deputy Bernard Carayon called for a law making it compulsory for French government departments to use ODF when they create or distribute documents. He suggested that France ask its European partners to do likewise when exchanging documents at a European level.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approved the ODF standard in Mayy, but the Office Open XML specification is still some way off that status.

Ecma's General Assembly will vote on the text during its meeting on 7 and 8 December. It cannot amend the text, only accept or reject it. If the final draft of the Office Open XML specification wins the assembly's approval, it will become an Ecma standard, and go on to ISO for fast-track approval, which can take six months to nine months. ISO may request amendments to the standard before voting to approve it. Both Ecma and ISO are based in Switzerland.

Before submitting the text to the general assembly, Ecma's Technical Committee 45 will publish the final draft on the standards body's website. That could happen as early as Monday, according to Ecma employee Isabelle Walch, and another source with knowledge of the process.

The publication of the draft will give software developers a chance to make their applications compatible with the final version of Microsoft's Office 2007 document format ahead of the application suite's launch to business users at the end of this year.

Technical Committee 45 has held six meetings to discuss the Office Open XML specification since beginning work on it last December.

At the most recent meeting held in Trondheim last week, participants discussed numerical data precision, a mechanism for describing application characteristics, and extending spreadsheet capacity before agreeing the final draft, committee member Tom Ngo wrote in a report of the meeting.