Microsoft has announced the formation of a technical community of developers to promote the OpenXML (Extensible Markeup Language) format as an international standard.

In a keynote address at the Microsoft Office System Developers Conference, the company's chairman Bill Gates launched Microsoft's effort, called the OpenXML Formats Developer Group.

According to that site, about 40 technology companies - including big names such as Intel, Apple Computer and many lesser-known companies such as Mathsoft Engineering and Education and NextPage have joined in the effort to learn how to use and support OpenXML on any platform.

The OpenXML developer effort rivals a recently launched group called the ODF Alliance, aimed at promoting another standard, Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF), for office documents.

The mission of the new OpenXML group is to "serve as a technical resource for OpenXML developers to submit and answer technical questions and to share tools and ideas around OpenXML Formats-based solutions," according to the site. Membership in the group is open to anyone for free, Microsoft said.

As launched, the effort seems to be little more than a forum for finding and exchanging information about using OpenXML. However, it does show that Microsoft is stalwart in its effort to promote its own proposed standard over ODF even as some of its biggest competitors are committed to pushing ODF.

Microsoft announced its plan to submit OpenXML document formats to the international standards body Ecma last November. At the time, the move was seen as an attempt to counter the growing momentum behind ODF, which is overseen by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium.

Microsoft also faced criticism for the guidelines it presented to Ecma for how OpenXML formats will be standardised. One industry group, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said those guidelines indicated that Microsoft may still retain ultimate control of the formats even as those go through the open process of becoming a global standard.

Many believe all of the jockeying for position for document standards was spurred by proposal by the state of Massachusetts that may result in the state's government agencies phasing out Microsoft Office in favour of software that supports ODF. At this time, the state appears to be moving forward with its transition to ODF even though the chief information officer who introduced the plan, Peter Quinn, left his post in late December amid public scrutiny that he said was disrupting his life.